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David Irving 



The Life of 

Field Marshal Erhard Milch 



Copyright © 1973 by David Irving 
Electronic version copyright © 2002 by Parforce UK Ltd 

All rights reserved 

No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made 
without written permission. Copies may be downloaded from our website for 
research purposes only. No part of this publication may be commercially 
reproduced, copied, or transmitted save with written permission in accordance 
with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who 
does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to 
criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. 



Introduction vi 

Acknowledgements ix 


Air Power Conserved 

1 Death of a Rich Uncle, Death of a Rich Aunt 2 

2 The Luftwaffe Reborn 33 

3 More Bluff than Blood 64 

PART 11 

World War Too Soon 

4 The Rainmaker 91 

5 A Question of Time roi 

6 ‘If Eight Million Go Mad . . 107 

7 A New Campaign 129 

8 Exit a Hero 140 


The Augean Stables 

9 New Broom 156 

ro No Such Word As ‘Impossible’ 167 

n The Dead Racehorse 181 

12 None So Blind 196 



Special Mission: Stalingrad 

13 ‘Panama!’ 204 

14 Total War 221 

part v 

The Year of the Clenched Teeth 

15 Terror Raids 230 

16 ‘As Though an Angel’s Pushing’ 242 

17 A Wreath Upon Our Coffin 253 

18 Defence of the Reich 264 

19 Life-or-Death Questions 272 

20 ‘Who Needs Messerschmitt?’ 281 


‘ Crashed in Flames’ 

21 Fighter Staff. 296 

22 Breaking-Point 307 


Judgement at Nuremberg 

23 In Allied Hands 330 

24 On Trial for His Life 347 

Epilogue: A Disclosure 370 

Bibliography 383 

Notes and Sources 395 

Index 461 



Included in this electronic version 

Erhard Milch before 1914 ( Milch Collection), page 5 

Milch with Hitler in 1932 ( National Archives, Washington), page 30 

Goring rebuilds the Lutwaffe ( sketch by Ernst Udet), page 41 

Milch photographs battlefield hotspots ( sketch by Ernst Udet), page 102 

Milch with Goring and Colonel ‘Beppo’ Schmid ( Milch Collection), page 119 

Ernst Udet ( Milch Collection), page 142 

The results of the RAF attack on Hamburg in July 1943 ( German High 
Command), page 254 

Goring, Milch and Jeschonnek ( Milch Collection), page 261 
The Nuremberg trials ( National Archives, Washington), page 348 

Included in the print edition only 
Frau Clara Milch ( Milch Collection) 

Erhard Milch’s father ( Milch Collection) 

Stockpiled engines and fuselages at Liibeck airfield in 1919 ( Milch Collection) 

The Directors of Lufthansa ( Milch Collection) 

The first Lufthansa flight from Vienna to Berlin ( Milch Collection) 

Milch inspects Luftwaffe guard of honour, 1935 ( Milch Collection) 

Prototypes of the four-engined Dornier 19 and the Junkers 89 ( Hanfried Schliephake) 
Visiting the British RAF, October 1937 ( Milch Collection) 

Wooden airfield at Trondheim, Norway ( Milch Collection) 

A page from Milch’s diary ( Milch Collection) 

With Speer and Professor Porsche ( Milch Collection) 

The Junkers 288 and the Focke-Wulf 191 ( Hanfried Schliephake) 

Goring and Hitler at Rechlin airfield, 1939 ( Milch Collection) 

Milch standing in for Goring at a Nazi rally ( Milch Collection) 

The Heinkel 177 and the Daimler-Benz 610 coupled-engines ( Imperial 
War Museum) 

The Messerschmitt 262 jet ( Hanfried Schliephake) 

The Arado 234 ( Imperial War Museum and Hans Schliephake) 

The V-i flying-bomb, the Dornier 335 fighter-bomber and the Junkers 287 ( Imperial 
War Museum and Hans Schliephake) 



of the score or more field marshals created by Hitler three, and one grand- 
admiral, are still alive. Most of the others were killed in action, committed sui- 
cide, or were hanged by Hitler or their captors. To have written a biography of 
Milch, least famous of the survivors, requires some explanation. When I visited 
them, most of his contemporaries were surprised to learn that he was still alive. 
In the last years of his life he closeted himself behind an anonymous front door 
in suburban Diisseldorf, looked after by a niece, writing reports for a foreign 
aviation company of international repute. I was intrigued by the man when I 
first met him five years ago. Erhard Milch, Hermann Goring’s deputy — his 
benefactor in time of poverty, his adversary in time of influence, his defender 
in time of trial — proved to be the repository of a thousand anecdotes of the 
war and its slow prelude. 

He was the senior of the surviving field marshals, and the highest-ranking 
of the surviving Luftwaffe officers. The Luftwaffe was a force which he, more 
than any other German, created. But more than that: the dapper, florid busi- 
nessman sitting upright in the stiff armchair next to me, preparing to narrate 
the three score years and ten of his life so far, had already created for himself a 
niche in history, quite outside the world of politics, by the time Adolf Hitler 
first entered the Reich Chancery in 1933. It was Milch whose administrative 
cunning and personal dynamism fashioned the German Lufthansa airline from 
its beginnings in local companies into an international concern, while at the 
same time secretly providing and nourishing the industrial roots from which a 
future Luftwaffe would spring. 

This much is known. And yet the real story starts even earlier. During the 
Lirst World War, Milch is to be seen with his hand camera, photographing Al- 
lied trenches from a German biplane; and if the wheel of time is allowed to spin, 
we catch a fleeting glimpse of the ex-Captain Milch, now commanding officer of 
a police air squadron in East Prussia, ordering a machine-gun to be turned on 
rioting strikers in Konigsberg. He describes it as though it were yesterday. 



Then, supporting himself on a walking stick, for he has sciatica, he walks stiffly 
across the drawing-room to an antique cupboard and returns with a yellowing 
sheaf of documents — the reports he wrote and some newspapers from 
Konigsberg, a city name long vanished from the map of Europe. 

When next I visited him I found he had retrieved from a local safe de- 
posit a stained and heavy suitcase, which he unfastened to reveal some fifty dia- 
ries and notebooks. I leafed through one at random and found a young artillery 
officer trudging in streaming rain through the carnage of a midnight battlefield 
of the Russian front during the First World War. The language was simple, but 
written with great feeling for the suffering of the common soldier. 

It is clear that Milch was no Prussian officer archetype himself. His con- 
versation was studded with scornful remarks about the Prussian generals whose 
obstinacy and lack of vision caused the Hitler Reich’s downfall, for he did not 
camouflage his enduring admiration of the Fiihrer. He was a field marshal but 
never a true officer, if his First World War service be overlooked. From being 
managing director of Fufthansa he became managing director of the secret 
Fuftwaffe. Only the rank and the uniform were new; the job was virtually the 
same. But it was the rank and uniform that antagonized his Prussian adversar- 
ies; and his competence infuriated them. The campaign they fought against 
him, with all the intrigues and tenacity the German general staff could muster, 
lasted the full eleven years from his appointment until his disgrace in 1944. 
When this biography was published in West Germany the controversy was re- 
newed, with able commanders like General Student hastening to the attack and 
others, equally able, coming to his defence. Milch ruefully quoted Friedrich 
Schiller’s lines on Wallenstein: ‘Torn by the hatred and favour of each faction, 
his name merges unsteadily with the past.’ (‘ Von der Parteien Gunst und Hass 
verwirrt, schwankt sein Charakterbild in der Geschichte.’) 

Now that his personal papers and official records are open to inspection, 
we can reassess the role he played. The widow of another Fuftwaffe field mar- 
shal, von Richthofen, has written to me: 

Now I have read the biography, I must say I am simply appalled at 
the intriguing and bickering that went on between the ministries, 



while every airman was doing his utmost at the front — and I myself 
lost a son as a combat pilot. The accomplishments that were Milch’s, 
and the opposition he had to overcome! I have wept bitter tears 
reading your biography — the tears of an impassioned soldier’s 
daughter, of a soldier’s wife, and of a soldier’s mother. I have been 
shaken to the core. 

My conversations with the field marshal for this book lasted four years. 
Subsequently he read and commented on the fifteen-hundred-page draft that I 
produced. The changes he suggested may interest the reader curious about 
Milch’s character. Once he invited me to delete Goring’s unflattering descrip- 
tion of a minister at the time of the Rohm massacre (‘pale as a sicked-up pea’), 
on the grounds that the man is now dead. (He was hanged at Nuremberg.) 
Again, a diary note where Goring disclosed a physical debility was removed at 
Milch’s request, with regard to the widow’s feelings. Nor was he devoid of sen- 
timent himself: he was deeply upset when he read the chapter terminating in 
the suicide of Ernst Udet, his closest friend, and learned for the first time the 
hurtful anti-Semitic epitaph scrawled by Udet before he pulled the trigger. On 
occasions Milch argued powerfully for the moderation of critical passages 
founded on my reading of the primary sources of the time. Occasionally he told 
me a version of an episode he had clearly related so often that it had begun to 
live a separate, and often charming, existence of its own, almost wholly detached 
from the substance of what had really happened. I hope my knowledge of the 
man has enabled me to detect and prune these offshoots in good time. 

Under the agreement whereby the field marshal surrendered his diaries, 
notebooks and papers for my use, he retained a right to veto one passage. It is 
proper that I should state that he insisted on only one occasion, when I was un- 
able to convince him to allow me to publish the whole truth about his real fa- 
ther (and in particular his identity), which I had meanwhile worked out for 
myself despite his wholly honourable effort to obscure it; he asked me not to 
disclose more than I have written in the narrative that follows, and although he 
has since died I am still bound by the undertaking I gave him in his lifetime. 




the list of people to whom this author is personally indebted is long, but 
first of all his gratitude must be expressed to Field Marshal Milch, who made 
available his papers for the first time, and read and commented on the manu- 
script at every stage; and to his family, who bore with the author’s many visits 
with great patience. But the author wishes to make it plain that he alone is re- 
sponsible for the statements made and the views expressed in this book, and 
that they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Field Marshal Milch unless 
expressly stated. 

Mention must also be made of Dr O. Puchner of the Staatsarchiv in Nur- 
emberg, and of Dr Friedrich Bergold, the field marshal’s erstwhile defence law- 
yer, for their assistance in providing much of the material on which the latter 
chapters were based. Professor Walther Hubatsch, Messrs Basil Collier, Albert 
Speer, Fritz Seiler and many others patiently read parts of the draft and sug- 
gested improvements; Gunner Archie Miller, who took Milch prisoner, de- 
scribed from his diary the capture and the looting that followed by other sol- 
diers; Major E. W. Rushton, of the Marine Commandos, described at length the 
events at Neustadt as OC of the unit responsible for mopping up in May 1945, 
and confirmed that Milch was ‘clobbered’ by the Commandos (not Major 
Rushton) when taken prisoner. 

Among the many others who assisted by granting interviews, writing let- 
ters, or reading the manuscript, gratitude is owing to Major-General Hermann 
Aldinger; engineer G. B. Alpers; Colonel Nicolaus von Below; Dr Willi A. Boel- 
cke; engineer Maximilian Bohlan; Mr Ernst Englander; Mr Richard Falke; Sir 
Roy Fedden; engineer Karl Frydag; Frau Irmingard Geist; Rear-Admiral 
Eberhard Godt; Mr Jacob Hennenberg, a former Jewish forced-labourer em- 
ployed on Milch’s estate near Breslau, who wrote unexpectedly to the author 
from Cleveland, Ohio, in defence of the field marshal; Mr Fritz Herrmann; 
General Walther Hertel; Frau Edith Hesselbarth; Mr Otto Horcher; Dr G. 
Hummelchen; Professor Heinz Kalk; director Rakan Kokothaki; lawyer Dr Otto 



Kranzbiihler; Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk; Colonel Viktor von Lossberg; 
lawyer Dr Werner Milch; Mr Fritz Nebel; Professor Lionel S. Penrose; Colonel 
Edgar Petersen; General Wolfgang Pickert; the late Dr Hjalmar Schacht; Major- 
General Friedrich Carl Schlichting; Mr Hanfried Schliephake; Professor F. See- 
wald; General Otto Skorzeny; Professor Telford Taylor; Group-Captain Peter 
Townsend; the Rt Hon Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, who as Lord Lawrence 
presided over the Nuremberg trials; Lieutenant-General Wolfgang Vorwald; 
test pilot Erich Warsitz; Frau Karin Weigel, secretary to General Koller; Major- 
General Karl-Eduard Wilke; and Mr Hans Karl von Winterfeld. 







March 1892-January 1933 

Europe first saw the shape of things to come on 15 March 1938, in a square in 
Vienna. To the sound of massed bands, the German army and its equipment 
were paraded through the newly occupied Austrian capital. All eyes centred on 
the knot of senior officers standing with Hitler in front of the Maria-Theresa 
monument. On one side stood Admiral Raeder and Colonel-General von Brau- 
chitsch, C-in-Cs of the German navy and army; and on the other, not 
Hermann Goring’s familiar resplendent figure, but a short, corpulent general 
in the blue full-length topcoat of the Luftwaffe, with round, youthful features 
and grey-blue eyes. It was proper that this general, Erhard Milch, should be 
there rather than Goring, for it was he who had recreated Germany’s air power. 
Three years before neither the Luftwaffe nor the uniform he was wearing had 
formally existed; and two years before that, when Adolf Hitler had seized 
power, Milch was still a civilian airline manager, and the Luftwaffe nothing 
more menacing than a corridor in the Defence Ministry and an airfield outside 

Milch had been as surprised as anybody by the decision to enter Austria. 
On leave at a Swiss skiing village five days before this vast military parade, he 
had been called by the hotel porter to the telephone. It was Berlin on the line. 
He recognized the voice of his principal staff officer: ‘Field Marshal Goring has 


ordered you to return to Berlin immediately!’ Milch asked, ‘What for?’ The 
voice hesitated, then replied, ‘Your aunt is dying.’ Milch had no aunts, but he 
had been kept informed by Hitler of his plans to take over Austria ever since 
February. He pointedly asked, ‘You mean the rich aunt?’ ‘That’s the one,’ the 
voice replied. 1 Milch hurried back to Berlin that same evening. He flew into 
Vienna with the first wave of transports on the twelfth, and watched as his 
Junker 52s disgorged two thousand fully equipped and armed troops within the 
space of four hours. 2 The army followed more laboriously by road. 

As the last echelons of the army parade passed the saluting base, Hitler 
ordered his adjutants to bar the streets to prevent the more unruly Viennese 
populace from falling in behind his Wehrmacht troops. A few minutes would 
pass before two o’clock struck. General von Brauchitsch passed acid comment 
on the absence of the Luftwaffe, and Hitler turned an inquiring gaze on Milch. 
The latter pointed wordlessly to his watch. Half a minute before the hour the 
air began to tremble as the Luftwaffe’s squadrons advanced across the suburbs 
toward them — over 450 aircraft, none of them more than 2,500 feet above the 
rooftops, with German and Austrian fighter squadrons in their van, and 270 
heavy bombers bringing up the rear less than a thousand feet above the 
ground. As the leading aircraft — piloted, symbolically, by a German and an 
Austrian general — passed overhead Milch turned to Hitler, saluted and an- 
nounced: ‘Mein Fiihrer, I beg to report the commencement of the Luftwaffe’s 
fly-past!’ 3 

What was the making of this unorthodox field marshal, this uniformed ‘man- 
aging director’ of the Luftwaffe? 

Along the North Sea coast of Germany, the folklore is that man is born on 
the rising tide and dies as it ebbs. This child was born on the afternoon of 30 
March r892 in the imperial navy port of Wilhelmshaven. The city’s records 
show that one Anton Milch, apothecary of the Kaiser’s navy, had registered ‘a 
male child born to his wife, Klara Auguste Wilhelmine Milch, nee Vetter, also of 
the Protestant faith’. 4 Of Anton Milch there is little that can be said, or needs to 
be, for he was not the real father of the child. His naval career tied the family to 
this undistinguished port, whereas his wife had grown up in Berlin. She was 



twenty-seven at Erhard’s birth, a tall, well-formed woman with fair hair and 
luminous blue eyes. Anton was away from home for long periods and for about 
a quarter of each year she was also away for some reason, but the family was well 
served with housemaids despite the humble income of an apothecary. On the 
Kaiser’s birthday she would purchase cream puffs with whipped cream and a 
cup of drinking chocolate as an annual treat for her family, and most summers 
their great-uncle Carl Brauer would come from Berlin and invite them to pa- 
tronize the ice-cream carts propelled by Italians through the streets of Wil- 
helmshaven. In this way the children grew up with equal admiration for the 
Kaiser and their Uncle Carl. On trial for his life fifty years later, the field mar- 
shal was to recall, ‘Loyalty to the Kaiser and loyalty to my country were the only 
political doctrines I received, either as an officer or earlier in my parents’ 
home.’ 5 

Brauer was one of the bigger building contractors in Berlin and his pri- 
vate fortune was large; when he died in 1906 it went entirely to Erhard’s 
grandmother, and the Milch family were able to move into a fashionable villa in 
the Konigsallee. On Brauer’s death the Berlin newspapers printed an obituary 
notice (‘Our Beloved Uncle’) from Milch’s mother. 6 Her husband had by then 
left the navy and bought a struggling chemist’s business at Gelsenkirchen in the 
Ruhr; Frau Milch took her children away from him and to Berlin, so Erhard 
moved from the Ruhr town’s grammar school to the superior Joachimsthal 
public school in the capital, where he matriculated early in 1910. 7 

Much of his later nationalism must have stemmed from his childhood 
talks with his grandmother, who could relate fabulous details of the crushing of 
the revolution in Berlin in 1848. With the destruction of the monarchy in 1918 
she lost all interest in life: ‘I no longer want to live now that there is no King of 
Prussia any more,’ she said, and she faded gracefully away soon after. When 
Erhard made known his intention of becoming an officer in the Kaiser’s army it 
was she who offered to pay the money he needed to supplement the pittance 
that they paid. 8 The other early formative influence was Milch’s neighbour in 
the Konigsallee, Admiral Ludwig Schroder, the legendary ‘Lion of Flanders’ 
who later commanded the Naval Expeditionary Force in the First World War; 
Erhard looked effectively — if mistakenly — to him as a father, a powerful rela- 



tionship that was to reach its maturity in the 1920s. 

He volunteered in February 1910 and after eight months’ training with 
the 1st Foot Artillery Regiment at Konigsberg transferred as the youngest cadet 
to Anklam Military Academy, passing the officer’s examination with the best 
marks out of 120 cadets and the military equivalent of a summa cum laude. This 
young, fair-haired dynamo remained firmly in his fellow lieutenants’ memo- 
ries. 9 In 1913 he transferred to the Artillery School at Jiiterbog, where he was to 
stun his superiors during one paper exercise by ordering his heavy battery to 
‘cease fire’, since he calculated that he had already run out of ammunition some 
days before. He applied for flying training, but was warned off by his CO after 
his return to Konigsberg: ‘My officers are too valu- 
able for such tomfoolery!’ 10 

At the outbreak of the First World War Lieu- 
tenant Erhard Milch, a robust artillery officer of 
twenty-two, was to be found at gunnery practice in 
West Prussia. As mobilization began he was ordered 
by telegram to return to Konigsberg as battalion 
adjutant of the 1st Foot — his battalion being in re- 
serve — with orders to defend the fortress. He ap- 
plied repeatedly for transfer to one of the front-line 
units, fearing that the war had left him behind; enviously he hung round the 
railway station, bidding Auf Wiedersehen! to his departing comrades — a vain 
injunction, for the regiment was to lose sixty-five officers and 1,600 men during 
the next few years. But after the first great battle was staged at Gumbinnen his 
battalion went to war for the first time, marching with steaming horses and 
groaning ammunition wagons as night fell through the Sackheim Gate in the 
east of the fortress. ‘Not a romantic exodus,’ lamented Milch, ‘the kind that one 
had dreamed of or seen depicted in the illustrated journals.’ 11 

Their first battle station was on the River Deime. On the third day a Rus- 
sian attack began against their lines and Milch’s battery fired nine hundred 
rounds. How often in peacetime he had doubted whether one could entirely 
suppress the coward within oneself; he was very pleased with his own compo- 
sure now the test had come. On the morning of 3 September 1914 a six-hour 

Erhard Milch before 1914. 
(milch collection) 



Russian barrage began and Milch’s quarters suffered a direct hit. A corporal 
telephonist was badly injured, but continued reeling in the telephone cable as 
he had been ordered; Milch gently took the reel from him and led him to the 
dressing-station. As he left him there the corporal called out, ‘ Herr Leutnant, 
may I write to you when they’ve put me together again, so that Herr Leutnant 
can ask for me back? Otherwise they might send me somewhere else.’ In the 
midst of this bombardment Milch received the first official mail, including an 
urgent letter from the General Inspectorate of Foot Artillery in Berlin with the 
battery’s scorecards from their recent gunnery practice in West Prussia: two 
errors were pointed out, the cards to be corrected in duplicate and returned to 
Berlin. Milch returned the cards unamended with a covering note: ‘We believe 
that war broke out on 1 August, which fact we obediently call to Berlin’s atten- 
tion.’ ‘Now you will never make it as Inspector General,’ Milch’s CO reproached 
him when he heard of this. 

After East Prussia had been cleared of the enemy Milch’s battalion was 
moved to the south-east of the province. Here the Russians had wrought 
frightful havoc in the villages and Milch was tempted to shut all compassion for 
the enemy out of his mind as the pursuit continued. He entered in his diary: 

There, all at once, the highway was strewn with artillery-pieces and 
machine-guns, with dead horses and the corpses of men. One of 
our batteries or a machine-gun unit had surprised the enemy and 
literally shot him to pieces. Whole teams of horses had crumpled in 
a trice, and now they lay there, their legs stiffly in the air, in one 
large bloody morass. On top of this came the rain, pouring down in 
sheets. It was a hideous sight, and yet one was glad, because this was 
the hated enemy. 

Having written these words he reflected, ‘And yet even for him I have 
something akin to sympathy in my heart — he too has been driven to his death 
by his superiors.’ 

In October the German offensive came to a halt and turned into a slow, 
hard-fought retreat to East Prussia and the Angerapp Line where they spent 



the winter. In mid-February next year, to forestall a Russian evasive move to the 
east, Hindenburg ordered an attack, less with the intention of gaining ground 
than of destroying the enemy’s attacking forces. So in Milch’s sector two battal- 
ions of Pomeranian grenadiers stormed across the icebound River Angerapp 
and seized the Weedern, a famous East Prussian stud farm rendered seemingly 
impregnable by three lines of Russian trenches and barbed wire. As the German 
onslaught faltered something unforgettable occurred — one battalion com- 
mander, Major Langemark, drew his dagger, bellowed ‘Follow me!’ and battled 
his way through the entanglement while the assault troops followed on his 
heels, singing the German national hymn as they overwhelmed the Russian 
trenches . 12 Thus the Russians’ fate was sealed. Milch later wrote, ‘Of our two 
thousand assault troops over half lay on the battlefield. But the casualties of the 
equally valiant Siberian riflemen were by far the greater. It was an awful sight, 
the trenches heaped with the dead, most of them with their skulls caved in — a 
way of fighting as particular to our burly Pomeranians as the bayonet is to our 
East Prussians.’ 

Half the night they marched toward the east. There was no billet, for the 
Russians had burned everything to the ground in their retreat. The roads had 
been hammered into treacherous ice by the army centipede, and many a can- 
non and wagon skidded off the track, broke up and had to be abandoned. The 
weather changed, it began to pour with rain and the ice turned to slush. On the 
evening of r4 February they were ordered to capture Raczki. It was not a major 
action but again it left an indelible impression on Milch’s memory. In one ac- 
count he wrote, 

At first light we began our advance, some way behind the advance 
party. To the right and left of us lay hundreds of infantrymen, 
sleeping as I thought at first, exhausted; but as it grew lighter I saw 
that all were dead. We came upon the battery we had silenced the 
day before, and then set out along a sunken lane leading to Raczki. 

The scene here was even more frightful, here the Siberians lay in 
their hundreds, their skulls beaten in, littering the whole path our 
troops had to follow. 



And in his diary Lieutenant Milch recorded: 

I will never be able to eradicate this memory of the road into the 
town; it was strewn with the corpses of our troops and those of the 
Russians. Most of them had hideous wounds, clubbed by rifle-butts, 
or torn by bayonets. Never had I yearned for peace so much as at 
that moment. The dead reached to the very market square of 
Raczki, and the filthy population just stood about, their hands in 
their pockets, staring insolently and without the least compassion 
for the horrors all about them. All this killing, even of the enemy, 
really hurts. But what is one to do about it? All the greater is my 
hatred for those responsible for this war. 13 

In July 1915 Lieutenant Milch was detailed to report for training as an aircraft 
observer. His aircrew training complete, he was transferred to the newly acti- 
vated 204th Artillery Reconnaissance Unit on the western front, at an airfield 
between Metz and Verdun. His aircraft was the unarmed Albatros B, with a top 
speed of about eighty-five miles per hour. None of the normal accidents of fly- 
ing in those days could dampen his enthusiasm; the wooden aircraft crashed, 
caught fire or came unstuck in the rain. There was a camaraderie among airmen 
of both sides that was wholly absent elsewhere. When a French Voisin was shot 
down in flames by a field-kitchen unit Milch considered this unsporting inter- 
vention by a ground formation unpardonable: ‘The only things left were 
snapshots and letters, one of which began, “Ma pomme adoree!” I found I was 
very sorry for the poor chaps.’ And when, a year later, a young Canadian air- 
man called Douglas Weld was shot down in a Sopwith Camel near his airfield, 
Milch allowed the captive to live for three days in his mess and even to try out 
one of the German aircraft for himself, against a verbal undertaking not to es- 
cape; Milch sent a crew to drop a letter from Weld to his mother over his home 
airfield next day. 14 Not long after the British No. 5 Squadron wrote to Milch 
that one of his aircraft had been shot down and both its crew were safe; the note 
invited him to drop their personal luggage over the British airfield. Thirty 



years later, Milch’s tender feelings for brother airmen had vanished. 

On the Somme, in the summer of 1916, he met enemy air superiority for 
the first time. His crews were outnumbered twenty-to-one in this sector; here 
they had to fly three sorties a day, whereas at Verdun they had never needed to 
fly more than one. By the evening of the third day all four aircraft in his unit 
lay disabled upon the French countryside. It was the arrival on the same airfield 
as Milch of one man, Captain Boelcke, that saved the situation. He fought as a 
soldier, not as a sportsman; Milch was fascinated by his modesty and by his un- 
forgettable eyes — the same blue eyes he found in Hermann Goring later. In the 
middle of June 1917 he was posted to No. 5 Air Unit as deputy commander, un- 
der the Sixth Army; it was well-housed in luxurious villas near Lille. Their 
planes were faster, flew higher and had longer range, and they were hardly 
troubled as they photographed the Allied preparations for Haig’s offensive in 
Flanders. As the battle reached its height the redoubtable army air commander 
Captain Wilberg had at one stage over seventy squadrons at his fingertips, in- 
cluding the ace fighter-squadron under Manfred, Baron von Richthofen. 15 

On 1 April 1918 Lieutenant Milch was selected as a candidate for the General 
Staff. As a preliminary he was posted to an infantry regiment holding a small 
sector near Arras. Here only the former churches and factories stood out as 
one-time artefacts of man — shallow pyramids of rubble among the treeless, 
grassless wastelands marking the front line. The German regiments had ar- 
ranged themselves so that one battalion was always up front, a second about 
four hundred yards farther back, and the third ‘at ease’ about two miles behind 
the front line. Milch was given No. 9 company of the 41st Infantry Regiment, a 
Memel company which had just lost forty men in a heavy British barrage; his 
predecessor had suffered a nervous breakdown and the survivors considered 
themselves doomed. It was a realistic test of any officer’s powers of leadership. 
The soldiers had provided no trenches for themselves and were protected only 
by a few sheets of corrugated iron. Milch marked out a trench about sixty yards 
long and ordered them to form up with spades and dig an eight-foot-deep 
trench. Nobody moved. He repeated his order, with the same effect. A young 
soldier muttered that there was no point in digging, as they were all dead men 



anyway. The lieutenant tore the spade from his hands and shouted: ‘Either you 
start digging now, or I’ll split your skull!’ The digging started. Later the British 
opened up again with heavy cannon- hre, and the corrugated iron shelter was 
blasted to pieces. The soldiers appreciated the value of the trench they had now 
dug. Shortly afterward one of the company’s officers asked Milch to come over. 
The whole company stood at attention in a fine drizzle in the moonlight, and 
the man whom Milch had threatened the day before stepped forward and 
apologized in all his comrades’ names, since it was obvious that without their 
lieutenant’s stern action none of them would have survived the day. 16 

Spring turned to summer, but no grass grew and Milch and his troops 
became gaunt and dirty. He was posted to the field artillery and in July 1918 he 
returned to the Air Corps as an intelligence officer. A month later he was pro- 
moted to captain, to await a final posting to Staff College. Meantime he was 
given command of his old unit, the 204th Reconnaissance, under Captain 
Wilberg in Flanders. The unit had expanded to eleven aircraft, two of which 
were armoured (one of them being the slow but excellent all-metal aircraft built 
by the Junkers company); the armour enabled his unit to carry out reconnais- 
sance missions at only 150 feet or so without losses. Milch’s ability and inven- 
tiveness attracted the attention of his superiors, for on 1 October Wilberg gave 
him command of No. 6 Fighter Squadron, brushing aside the captain’s objec- 
tions that he could not fly himself; so Milch was obliged to command from the 
ground, an overwhelmingly uncomfortable experience for any commanding 
officer. 17 As the war came to its abrupt and dishonourable end five weeks later 
all the elements that were to characterize the later field marshal were already 
implanted within him — the vision and foresight, but also the unbecoming ir- 
reverence toward authority; the powerful nationalist and patriotic instinct, but 
also the seeds of a corroding xenophobia; the personal courage and ruthlessness 
in action, but also a strong humanity and sense of compassion even toward an 
enemy. To these features the next twenty years were to add only one — an out- 
standing ability to organize and administer. 

On the last day of the First World War Captain Erhard Milch paraded his 
fighter squadron at dawn. As a final test of discipline he inspected them, 



handed out a savage dressing-down to a nonplussed flight commander for in- 
solence, ordered the men to form up again properly, and stood them to atten- 
tion for fifteen minutes. Only then did he read out the Fourth Army’s order 
for the election of soldiers’ councils. He ordered all the squadron’s motor 
transport to be equipped with machine-guns and to set out for the German 
border. 18 

As the undefeated battalions marched back across the border into the Fa- 
therland, their contempt for the revolutionaries was open. Before reaching the 
German border Milch ordered his convoy to halt and again paraded his men. 
He told them that they were now returning to their own country, and that 
they must march in with their heads held high; he asked them to do him one 
last favour, to fly the Kaiser’s colours from their vehicles as they crossed the 
frontier. During the night they entered Aachen, the first German town. In his 
diary he wrote: ‘Into Germany. Not one of the swine welcomes us back — only 
the little children wave.’ 19 At the town hall the local workers’ council was in ses- 
sion with the Fourth Army’s soldiers’ council; about twenty sailors with red 
armbands milled about. The revolutionaries stared with some perplexity at 
Milch’s uniform. Milch bluffed, ‘I would advise you to get rid of your red arm- 
bands if you value your lives. There’s a division loyal to the Kaiser not far be- 
hind, shooting every revolutionary they lay hands on.’ He later regretted not 
having acted himself to restore order — the revolutionaries’ fear of the front- 
line troops was enormous. 

At Danzig he reported to the 17th Army Corps, and for the next months 
he toured the provincial cities nearby, taking over from the soldiers’ councils, 
preventing the destruction or dumping of army property and disarming the 
bands of partisans that had formed. 20 All the time he yearned to return to the 
air. The Corps’s chief of staff agreed to his suggestion that they should establish 
a volunteer flying squadron at Danzig’s Langfuhr landing ground; the current 
occupants of the landing ground — a naval air school, now strongly revolution- 
ary — did not approve, and it took a pitched battle fought with hand-grenades 
to eject them. When the Germans activated a border patrol along their com- 
mon border with Poland in April 1919, Milch was appointed commander of No. 
412 Volunteer Flying Unit, a motley collection of patriots, soldiers and merce- 



naries. In Posen and Upper Silesia there had been revolutions, exploited by the 
Poles to push their frontiers farther westward, and Milch sensed keenly the 
disgrace inflicted on these eastern provinces. He proposed to the Army Corps a 
small private war, no less, to hound the none-too-powerful Poles out of Posen; 
but to his bitter disappointment the chief of staff rejected the idea. He did not 
dispute that they would enjoy a small victory at first and even liberate the 
province to its former frontiers. He later wrote to Milch, ‘Nobody could be sor- 
rier than I to have to subject your heartfelt plans to a sober criticism. Unfortu- 
nately I must. You must not let your emotions run away with you — cool reason 
must play its part, unfortunately . . . Once and for all, the opportunities are 
long gone.’ 21 

Originally the peace terms had been expected to permit Germany an army of 
two hundred thousand men including airmen, but the final terms of Versailles 
proved these hopes to be illusory; only a hundred thousand men were to be 
permitted in the Reichswehr, and none of these were to be airmen. 22 An addi- 
tional police force was permitted, so the crafty Germans resolved to equip the 
police with air squadrons, seven in all, of which Milch was invited to establish 
one at Konigsberg in September 1919. 23 He arrived there with his wife — he had 
married Kathe Patschke in Berlin two and a half years before — and daughter 
Gerda, and selected a former Zeppelin airfield at Seerappen as his headquarters, 
far from the revolutionary influences of the provincial capital. 24 The barracks 
were currently occupied by four hundred and fifty soldiers; Milch’s squadron 
appeared with nine aircraft on the afternoon of 1 November and fired machine- 
gun bursts into the air while a lieutenant and a trumpeter gave the squatters 
two hours to get out. In his diary Milch noted that the removal to Seerappen 
passed smoothly, ‘despite a number of unpleasantnesses’. 25 With thought for 
the future, he collected there every aircraft and component he could lay hands 
on; soon there was not enough space in the Zeppelin hangar for this hoard, so 
the Social Democrat police-president of Konigsberg allowed him to store valu- 
able equipment in the police headquarters. 

To Milch’s surprise he found that he was expected to be not only airman 
but policeman as well, his squadron’s personnel being ordered to put down a 



wave of gangsterism in the port. This exposed a ruthless streak in him that was 
to become fully developed when he was directing a war against more than just a 
few burglars in the streets of Konigsberg, twenty years later. At first his men 
held back, until one of them was gunned down by an intruder; on each of the 
following nights, on Milch’s orders, his squads shot dead a prowler. The break- 
ins halted dramatically as the gangsters fled to other provinces. In August 1920 
his now toughly disciplined men held at bay an armed mob storming the 
Konigsberg flour-mill; two of his men were clubbed to the ground before a 
third mastered the situation and opened fire with a machine-gun, holding the 
rioters at bay until reinforcements arrived. The factory’s medical orderlies 
picked up the dead and injured. 26 A few months later the Allies exerted pres- 
sure on the Germans to abide by Versailles and even para- military flying was 
forbidden. 27 The police squadrons were obliged to surrender all their aircraft; 
Milch accordingly retired from the force at the end of March r92r and took off 
his captain’s uniform for the last time. 

Temporarily unemployed, he looked to his future. Concealed in various 
parts of the country he had numbers of aircraft or their parts, but one by one 
these were discovered by the Entente officials and confiscated. ‘Dear Captain 
Milch,’ wrote one correspondent, ‘it is my sad duty to advise you that your 
Fokker was discovered by the Entente yesterday and confiscated.’ 28 ‘Captain 
Milch, Right Honourable!’ appealed another writer. ‘There has been another 
unsuccessful search made here. May I now ask you to have the objects in ques- 
tion removed from here? I expect my farmstead to be rid of these things by 8 
a.m. tomorrow at the latest. I want no part of it.’ On which Milch pencilled a 
lapidary comment: ‘Never saw such cowardice in seven lines!’ 29 Civil aviation 
seemed the only answer, while it lasted. 

It had already existed in Germany for two years, a small company, the 
German Airline (Deutsche Luft-Reederei) having been granted a licence in 
1919; but its aircraft were open, hazardous and primitive. A rival company, 
Lloyd Ostflug (Lloyd Eastern Airways), had been founded in i92r by Professor 
Hugo Junkers and a former naval air service lieutenant, Gotthard Sachsenberg, 
to open up air routes in eastern Europe. Sachsenberg had crossed swords with 
Milch over Seerappen airfield a year before, and casting about him for an ener- 



getic manager for the new airline’s Danzig office he remembered Milch and 
offered him the job; the latter accepted, and became the kingpin of the main 
route which was to run from Berlin through Danzig to Konigsberg. 30 This 
marked the beginning of one of the most creative periods in his career — a pe- 
riod which was to end with him as chief executive of Lufthansa, the country’s 
national airline. 

He at once left for Danzig, leased the old airfield at Langfuhr and pro- 
cured a six-year-old Rumpler Cl reconnaissance aircraft, which the British high 
commissioner there allowed him to keep. The plane shuttled from Berlin to 
Danzig, with one passenger in the open observer’s seat with a bag of mail on his 
lap. The mail to Berlin was often quicker by train, and the passenger air fare was 
certainly more expensive; but it was a beginning, if not an encouraging one. 
During the spring of r92r the Junkers works delivered the first two F r3s — an 
all-metal, single-engined plane with a cabin for four passengers. Milch had ad- 
vertising cards printed stressing the advantages of flying with Danzig Air Mail: 
‘Passengers are conveyed by the most up-to-date Junkers cabin aircraft. Special 
clothing like furs, goggles, etc., are not needed.’ 31 And what an innovation that 
was! Despite the Versailles decree that all German aircraft production should 
cease for six months, Junkers did not stop his factories; indeed in his Dessau 
drawing office a four-engined aircraft was already taking shape. In May i92r the 
Western Powers delivered an ultimatum — if aircraft production did not cease, 
they would occupy the Ruhr. The German government capitulated and all F 
13s manufactured to date were ordered to be surrendered to the Allies as well. 

The manager of Danzig Air Mail knew nothing of these strictures, but he 
felt the effects. Two more F r3s had been delivered to him, and he and Sachsen- 
berg had flown to Kovno and won a licence to open a route to that city far to 
the east of Konigsberg; later that summer they concluded negotiations for the 
route to Riga. 32 But the French control officers dutifully pursued the little air- 
line, with its Danzig-registered aircraft, and soon the company was running 
only one service and that was outside Germany, from Danzig onward to Riga; 
an adventurous game to conceal the forbidden F r3s had begun along the 
route. 33 The French had specific orders for the confiscation of each F r3 owned 
by the airline, but they knew them only by their registration numbers — DZ 3r, 



32, 35 or 38. They could not be in all places at all times and a paint-brush fre- 
quently reached the aircraft before the French officials did. This situation could 
not last forever: toward the end of July 1921 three of Milch’s aircraft were seized 
one after the other as they landed at Berlin; a few days later two French officers 
arrived on the Danzig airfield carrying sledge-hammers, to smash the rest. 
Their leader himself scratched at the registration number on one aircraft and 
exclaimed that there was another number painted underneath. Milch drily ad- 
vised him, ‘Keep scratching. You will find a lot more.’ 34 

To add to his difficulties the four parent companies of Lloyd Eastern Air- 
ways began to break apart, and the airline was eventually divided between the 
contending major shareholders. Danzig Air Mail, which alone operated F 13s, 
fell to Professor Junkers and Gotthard Sachsenberg. At the end of October 1921 
this company was forced to suspend operations altogether in the face of the 
continuing French harassment, an enforced idleness that was to last seven 
months. 35 

Ostensibly the Reich Defence Ministry abided by Versailles, but it maintained 
contact with the former officers of the Flying Corps; in January 1920 one Cap- 
tain Kraehe circularized the more experienced of them to write reports on their 
experiences. Milch was asked to write on tactical reconnaissance and on ‘the 
struggle for air supremacy’; it is worth mentioning that his two studies showed 
the fighter aircraft as the key to supremacy, while the ‘workhorse aircraft’ 
whose path it was to clear was of only secondary importance. 36 The Corps was 
formally dissolved in May 1920, and Captain Wilberg, now Kraehe’s assistant, 
was seconded as ‘air adviser’ to General von Seeckt. His work continued un- 
changed, and on 1 November r92i Milch was to be found in Wilberg’s office; he 
wrote in his diary, ‘Discussion on training school! Latest news on secret air 

The military authorities were now casting thoughtful glances at Russia’s 
territories: the Soviet Union had adopted none of the hostile measures toward 
German aviation favoured by Britain and France, and negotiated with both 
Danzig Air Mail and their rivals, the German Airline, over an air route from 
Konigsberg onward to Moscow and St Petersburg; at the same time the Reich 



Defence Ministry secured permission from the Russian government for Pro- 
fessor Junkers to erect a secret aircraft factory near Moscow, at Fili. Over the 
next four years the Reich provided nearly ten million gold marks in subsidies — 
a sum, as Ernst Brandenburg, Germany’s head of civil aviation, later remarked, 
which would have sufficed during the inflation to buy up ‘half Germany’. 37 
Unhappily for the Fili venture, the parent Junkers company used the subsidies 
merely to meet domestic wage bills at Dessau; irritated by Russian complaints, 
the ministry opened an investigation of Fili’s affairs and the bubble was pricked. 
After the Locarno estrangement with Russia, Germany stopped all further in- 
vestment in Fili and an incurable crisis started for Junkers. Whether or not 
Professor Junkers was himself aware of the machinations of his colleagues — and 
particularly Sachsenberg — must remain obscure. Brandenburg later testified, ‘I 
never knew what to make of him. Was it a childish ingenuousness or unscru- 
pulous fraud?’ 38 For the time being, however, at the beginning of 1922, the bub- 
ble remained unpricked; indeed, as if to drive Germany still further into the 
Soviet camp the Western Allies arbitrarily prolonged the veto on German air- 
craft manufacture a further six months, and in mid- April announced that new 
German aircraft were not to be designed to fly faster than 120 miles per hour, 
nor might they fly higher than 13,000 feet nor carry more than half a ton of 
payload. In high dudgeon the German delegation left the conference on post- 
war problems at Geneva and reached separate agreement with the Soviet Union 
at nearby Rapallo. 

When the veto was lifted in May 1922 three large airlines — Junkers Air- 
ways, Lloyd Air Services and German Airline — dominated the scene. Sachsen- 
berg envisaged a vast network of air routes operated by Junkers subsidiaries and 
flying Junkers aircraft, an airline network extending from London to Constan- 
tinople, and it was Milch who conducted the early negotiations with Swiss, 
Austrian and Hungarian airline representatives. His own interest centred on 
the east, and he drew up plans for a route from Danzig to Warsaw, Lemberg 
and Cracow, to be extended eventually to Bucharest, where it would pick up 
Sachsenberg’s ‘Trans-Europe Union’ network. 39 He reached agreement with 
the Poles in the summer of 1922 and himself conducted the inaugural flights 
while Polish government officials jostled for a chance to board the Junkers 



‘limousines’. The new Polish company, Aerolot, opened on 1 September, the 
government paying sixty thousand Polish marks for every flight from Danzig 
through Warsaw to Lemberg, either in cash or fuel. It was, for Milch, a victory 
‘more satisfying than on any battlefield’. 40 

A year later he was promoted to Dessau as head of the company’s man- 
agement office. He was less happy here than at Danzig, and he found that he 
had personal opponents among Sachsenberg’s loyal liegemen. One of them was 
to say of him, when he was confined in Landsberg Prison, ‘We all thought he 
was an opportunist, and we were convinced he could not be relied upon. In 
some strange way, he was not one of us. None of us was his friend.’ 41 Above all 
Milch was a hard-headed businessman — he disapproved of the professor’s fu- 
turistic plans and wanted more concentration on consolidating what had so far 
been achieved. The professor’s reputation suffered a severe setback when an 
expedition he had rashly mounted to promote Junkers aircraft in South Amer- 
ica met disaster: an American colonel who had advised him of the large market 
waiting there turned out to be an unemployed barber; the expedition had been 
despatched none the less. The first F 13 had crashed, killing its two-man crew 
(including the professor’s son); the second had been forced down and sunk. 
Milch was sent out to pull Junkers’s chestnuts out of the fire, with two more F 
13s. In Buenos Aires he negotiated with big business and by April 1924 it was 
clear that he had turned the venture into a triumphant success; he flew dem- 
onstration flights with the aircraft to Montevideo and other cities, arranged for 
the sale of the aircraft to the military authorities, and negotiated with the gov- 
ernment on subsidies for a Junkers-controlled national airline. At one small 
town in Argentina an ancient, sunburned farmer approached the aeroplanes, 
walked round them, stroked their hot metal surfaces and finally inquired: ‘Are 
these German planes?’ Milch nodded that they were. ‘Then Germany is not 
finished!’ was the farmer’s congratulation. 42 

The professor sent Milch to New York and then to tour the huge Ford 
automobile works at Detroit. 43 He never forgot the spectacle of the Ford facto- 
ries at Highland Park, and dwelt in his diary on the awe-inspiring machinery of 
the foundry at River Rouge and the largely Negro manpower; above all he was 
astounded by the mass-production conveyer-belt techniques. He believed this 



ideal could never be attained in Germany, where the rival companies fought 
each other to the death in blissful ignorance of the industrial revolution hap- 
pening across the Atlantic. 44 Milch was one of the few Germans to give warning 
of the mighty potential of the American war industries when the Second World 
War broke out. 

When he returned to Germany in mid-August 1924, only two airlines were left 
of the thirty-eight that had sprouted in Germany since the First World War — 
the newly formed Junkers Airways under Gotthard Sachsenberg and the rival 
Aero-Lloyd. This concentration was the achievement of Ernst Brandenburg, 
who had seen it as his duty to allocate state subsidies only to these two compa- 
nies. 45 But it was still not enough, for costly competition between the two com- 
panies continued, and late in 1925 Brandenburg ruled that both must merge 
into one national airline — Deutsche Lufthansa. What astounded both compa- 
nies was the directorship dictated by the State to Lufthansa — Otto Merkel and 
Martin Wronsky from Aero-Lloyd, and Erhard Milch (not Sachsenberg) from 

That Milch, at the age of thirty-three, should suddenly emerge with such 
a position was inexplicable to his enemies at Dessau; it was scarcely explicable to 
him. In prison he later wrote, ‘It turned out to be a far more momentous step 
than I had ever guessed. Without it, I would have forfeited the most rewarding 
period of my life, the years from r925 to r933 with Deutsche Lufthansa; I would 
not have become a soldier again in 1933, and a field marshal in r94o; but nor 
would I now be sitting in a confined and gloomy prison cell. How inscrutable 
are the paths of man.’ 46 His acceptance of the ministry’s offer evoked immediate 
Junkers accusations of disloyalty, but from his papers — which include tran- 
scripts of the vital conversations in Berlin — it is clear he acted in the professor’s 
best interests throughout. 47 Sachsenberg, on the other hand, clearly stated: ‘As a 
Junkers official my sole interest is to wreck the new company and enable our 
company to regain control of Junkers Airways.’ 48 But Milch saw the coming of 
Lufthansa as inevitable, in which case it was vital for Junkers’s interests to be 
equally represented in it; Professor Junkers should concentrate on building 
aircraft, not operating an airline. The professor himself eventually accepted this 



view, and Milch fought the company’s case so well that while only 208 of Aero- 
Lloyd’s former staff were taken on the Lufthansa payroll, 225 were taken on 
from the far smaller Junkers Airways. 49 

The Lufthansa organization plan showed three directorships. Aero-Lloyd 
had proposed four, of which they themselves wanted three — finance, technical 
and flying control — but Milch insisted that the latter must be a Junkers man. 
Eventually he himself filled the post. At a Junkers banquet held, coincidentally, 
on the evening of his appointment, powerful speeches were delivered against 
Milch; he endeavoured to defend his action, but it was not surprising that there 
were now those at Dessau who believed that their former director had stuck a 
dagger in their backs. 50 For Junkers, Ernst Brandenburg was to write, the new 
Lufthansa company was to become a red rag to a bull. 51 Sachsenberg waged war 
against it from the day it was formally established, 6 January 1926, shunning no 
method to bring it into disrepute and vilifying Milch as the traitor who had 
ruined Junkers Airways. Milch suffered deeply under this campaign. 52 

The new company’s chairman was Emil-Georg von Stauss, an enlightened 
director of the Deutsche Bank. As his deputy directors Milch selected Karl- 
August, Baron von Gablenz and Joachim von Schroder — son of the admiral 
and a boyhood friend; flying was to be the life and death of both these men. His 
technical deputy was Dr Grulich, an Aero-Lloyd official blessed with neither 
Wronsky’s diplomacy nor Merkel’s intelligence; his relations with Milch were 
strained, as Wronsky and Merkel had hinted to him that the far younger 
Junkers man was only a temporary evil whom Grulich would in due course 
replace. 53 The evil lasted longer than Grulich thought possible. Otto Merkel, 
the commercial manager, showed his strange talents at the very first Lufthansa 
board meeting. The entire capital of Junkers Airways and Aero-Lloyd had con- 
sisted only of aircraft and equipment; neither had liquid reserves. As however 
both companies had been assigned 27.5 percent of Lufthansa’s shares, each had 
to value its contribution at nearly seven million Reichsmarks, which in effect 
meant dividing that sum by the number of aircraft each company turned in. 
To avoid adding cash, Aero-Lloyd’s Merkel valued the obsolete Fokker F 11 and 
F hi aircraft at grossly inflated prices. Milch protested immediately to Branden- 
burg about this millstone of insolvency being hung about the new company, 



but Brandenburg made it clear that for his ministry the success of the merger 
was more important than the prospects of the company. 54 

Thus the airline’s first fleet consisted in all of some 150 aircraft of a score 
of different makes and types, a technical director’s nightmare. The root prob- 
lem of German aircraft design at that time, and for the next two decades, was 
the lack of powerful aero-engines. In 1926 the biggest was the Bavarian Motor 
Works’ BMW vi, rated at about 500 horsepower, but it was still suffering 
teething troubles and Milch preferred the Junkers lv, a 350-horsepower en- 
gine, as the more reliable. In the first few months he repeatedly asked himself 
whether one could accept the risk of carrying passengers at all. 

To his fellow directors he was still an unknown quantity, a man of whom 
they expected little because of his youth. From all but von Stauss and the two 
ministry nominees on the board, Willy Fisch and Friedrich Heck, the Junkers 
man experienced a certain hostility for the first year. His early efforts were de- 
voted to increasing the numbers of long-distance routes and reducing the short 
city-to-city hops. But he fought alone: Merkel was interested only in flying as 
many miles as possible, to get as big a return on his aircraft as he could; and 
Wronsky was concerned only with the size of the network he could parade be- 
fore his foreign counterparts at the annual meetings of the IATA, the Interna- 
tional Air Transport Association. A look at the Lufthansa board assembled in 
the Great Hall of the Deutsche Bank in Berlin showed the opposition Milch 
could expect: of the sixty-six board members, the majority were local mayors 
like Bracht of Essen, Adenauer of Cologne, Landmann of Frankfurt, Scharnagl 
of Munich and Lehr of Diisseldorf. 

But gradually the long-distance routes were extended. He flew to Moscow 
and renewed the agreement on the subsidiary company ‘Deruluft’ for a further 
five years, and that summer he promoted Lufthansa’s first transcontinental 
expedition to explore an air route across Russia to the Far East. Two Junkers G 
24s were despatched from Berlin in July 1926, following the old Danzig Air Mail 
route as far as Kovno, then to Moscow and onward across the Urals and Siberia 
to the Pacific Ocean and Peking. At Peking crowds waited on the beaches as the 
two aircraft, giants of their day, passed overhead, their German insignia clear to 
all the watchers in the August sun. The wife of one Hanover businessman wrote 



home: ‘And there I stood, gazing as they flew on like enormous birds toward 
the lilac-coloured mountains in the west. I scarcely noticed the tears running 
down my cheeks. I was back home again! This was Germany calling and beck- 
oning us from the Fatherland.’ 55 Not long after Milch sent a Lufthansa ‘Whale’ 
flying-boat to Brazil to prepare a transatlantic service, and a Lufthansa offshoot, 
the Condor Syndicate, was awarded a Brazilian licence to operate along that 
country’s seaboard. 56 

During its first year, 1926, Lufthansa carried 93,000 passengers, and its 
aircraft flew a daily average of 25,000 miles, a figure which was to increase to 
46,600 in 1927. Lufthansa planes carried gold bullion, shipments of stocks and 
shares, fresh flowers from Holland, furs and caviar from Russia, gowns from 
Paris and Vienna, and the latest table delicacies for hotels and restaurants. 57 
Milch pioneered blind- flying schools for his pilots and prevailed on German 
industry to supply the special instruments that this needed. 58 On Branden- 
burg’s initiative he opened half a dozen regular pilot-training schools. Thanks 
to his insistence on proper servicing and frequent overhauls, the airline flew 
with ninety-seven percent regularity and with ninety-eight percent safety. 

Occasionally Lufthansa aircraft made unscheduled landings, but the loss 
of life was small. In March 1927 Milch flew on the inaugural flight from Berlin 
to Vienna, via Dresden and Prague; the flight went off perfectly and great was 
the celebration in Vienna before their return. This may have proved the pilot’s 
undoing, for after two attempts at flying over the mountains outside Dresden, 
on the third their aircraft came to rest in a pine forest on the very crown of one 
of them. The heavy plane snapped a score or more trees like matchwood before 
stopping. While Milch marshalled the passengers in the snow the pilot stood, 
head in hands, staring at his machine; the airline director invited the passengers 
to sit along one wing-edge in the sun, and led them in singing an old flying 

If you touch down in a leafy glade, 

And the point of your journey is gone, 
Then twitter about and sample the shade 
Of the branches the birds cluster on. 



Soon a handful of local villagers arrived and carried their baggage to the nearest 
village. Milch summoned a car from Dresden and there he invited the passen- 
gers to sample a 1921 Rhine wine with him. Lufthansa could hardly have looked 
after its passengers better in those days. 59 

That was the spring in which an American airman, Captain Lindbergh, flew 
non-stop across the Atlantic. No German aircraft could match the achievement 
yet, but Lufthansa still intended to establish the first regular transatlantic serv- 
ice. The Condor Syndicate had been the first step and the second was the com- 
pletion of part of the European end of the route by the establishment of a 
German-Spanish airline, ‘Iberia’, on 14 December; three weeks later the whole 
section from Berlin to Madrid was opened by Lufthansa. In May the following 
year Milch was prophesying, ‘Regular transatlantic flights, non-stop, are today 
within the realms of reality.’ 60 But the dream was a distant one, and in the 
meantime he opposed any Lufthansa involvement in spectacular overseas flights 
like Lindbergh’s; overland flights were within sight of becoming self-supporting 
enterprises, and these were the only answer to growing left-wing criticism of the 
State subsidies for Lufthansa in the Reichstag. 61 

The criticism was further nourished by Junkers and Sachsenberg, who 
had gone to some lengths to curry Socialist support and who were paying 
regular sums of money to at least three Reichstag deputies to attack Lufthansa 62 ; 
these deputies demanded that Lufthansa’s subsidies be halved, and when the 
airline’s directors privately appealed to Ernst Brandenburg to defend the subsi- 
dies, the civil servant could only point helplessly to the powerful opposition 
and recommend Lufthansa to purchase a number of Reichstag deputies for 

At the Reichstag elections in May 1928 twelve extreme right-wing NSDAP 
deputies were elected. Among them was Hermann Goring, one of the more 
socially acceptable of the Nazis. Like Milch he had attained the rank of captain 
in the Flying Corps, serving first as an observer, and then as a fighter pilot, 
winning the pour le merite medal on the western front. For Lufthansa he was 
one of the more attractive deputies, having maintained his contacts with civil 


aviation after the Armistice by acting as an exhibition pilot and then as a para- 
chute salesman in Sweden. 63 There can be no doubt that even before his election 
Goring was financed by Lufthansa. Among Deutsche Bank archives now in East 
German hands is a letter written by Milch in 1930, explaining: ‘As far as the 
Deputy Goring is concerned, he did have an advisory post in Deutsche Luf- 
thansa before his election to the Reichstag — i.e., while he was not an employee 
in the strict sense of the word, he was an “expert consultant” in the American 
sense.’ 64 The bank’s records also show at least one cheque for ten thousand 
Reichsmarks paid to Goring in June 1929, charged against Lufthansa’s ac- 
count 65 ; the company also bought the Social Democrat deputy Keil and the 
German People’s Party deputy Dr Cremer.* 66 

Junkers struck his most serious blow at Lufthansa in the summer of 1928: 
he declared that his own three-engined G 24 aircraft, which formed the back- 
bone of the airline’s fleet, was unfit for flight unless its all-up weight could be 
reduced by a thousand pounds. 67 The airline faced ruin until Milch himself 
thought of an ingenious solution — they could take out the two wing engines 
and use just one more-powerful central engine, for example the improved 
BMW vi. ‘Out of the question!’ was the old professor’s astounded reaction. In 
1943 Milch was to recall with evident relish, ‘So I told Schatzki to go over all the 
calculations. He did so and told me immediately, “It will work!”’ Dr Schatzki 
was one of Grulich’s senior engineers. ‘It was I, a complete layman, who had this 
idea, and that’s how we saved Lufthansa’s fortunes . . . And when I as Technical 
Director went up in it with our Flight-Captain Pieper, my own technical dep- 
uty Grulich exclaimed out loud: “I hope it crashes. Then we’ll be rid of our 
Technical Director at long last.’” 68 All Lufthansa’s G 24s underwent this drastic 
modification, to the rage of Professor Junkers. Milch demanded the dismissal of 
Grulich, but Otto Merkel brusquely refused. 69 

* Lieutenant-Colonel Killinger told the same story under British (CSDIC) interrogation: ‘Even 
before 1933 in his capacity as Nazi Reichstag deputy [Goring] received about 1,000 Reichsmarks 
monthly from Milch and Gablenz, directors of Lufthansa, in return for which he vigorously 
defended Lufthansa’s interests in the Reichstag.’ It is furthermore known that the records of the 
Bavarian Aircraft Works show at least one payment to Goring at this time, amounting to 2,800 
Reichsmarks and entered in the firm’s books as ‘a one-time cash allowance to G.’ 



Learning that Merkel was collecting material against him, Director Milch 
accordingly opened a dossier on Merkel. Later he was to give the impression 
that his rival’s downfall was as much of a surprise to him as it was to the vic- 
tim, 70 but Milch’s private papers show that as early as the spring of 1928 he had 
begun collecting damaging material, while at the same time cultivating his own 
relations with his chairman and vice-chairman. Milch became a frequent guest 
at Stauss’s home, went yachting with him, carefully entered Stauss and his wife 
(along with Goring) on his expanding birthday-present list and chronicled the 
progress he was making: ‘Midday, called on von Stauss: trouble with Merkel, 
etc.’ ‘Afternoon, Heck reports to me Stauss favours Milch, opposes Wronsky 
and Merkel.’ ‘Stauss telephones: satisfied with me, but not with Merkel or 
Wronsky.’ And, ‘Von Stauss dresses down the directors on their commercial 
policies.’ 71 His most effective weapon was a pocket notebook in which he entered 
each month Lufthansa’s precise financial position. 72 Evidently the company was 
accumulating a huge deficit under Merkel and was about to meet disaster. From 
early 1929 onward the threat of reduced services and redundancy loomed over 
the airline. Lufthansa increased its financial support for Goring and his fellow 
deputies, but the opposition successfully forced an investigation of the airline’s 
accounts. 73 Lufthansa’s subsidy was halved for the coming year. 74 

Goring did what he could to fight the cuts. In mid-June 1929, when the 
transport budget received its second reading in the Reichstag, he demanded 
that the Reich should expand German civil aviation, not restrict it, as a great 
patriotic task: ‘Because if you don’t you will live to regret it.’ 75 The government 
would not reconsider its decision. Redundancy was inevitable; Lufthansa would 
have to cut its staffby about thirty-five percent. 76 The government audit com- 
mittee recommended that the cuts should start at the top. The obstinate 
Grulich went, and Milch promoted Grulich’s assistants, Dr Stussel and Dr 
Schatzki. 77 On 1 July the committee asked Milch to take over Merkel’s office as 
commercial director as well. He later wrote, ‘This decision flabbergasted me. I 
did not even know how to read a balance sheet.’ Unaware of this decision, Mer- 
kel mentioned to him three days later that Stauss was expecting one of them to 
resign to set a good example; Milch ‘volunteered’ to resign himself, aware as he 
was by then that Merkel had already drawn the short straw. 78 On 5 September 



Milch took over the commercial management, making him effectively ‘chief 
executive’ of Deutsche Lufthansa. 

After the Nazi seizure of power he procured a well-rewarded position for 
Dr Grulich out of compassion for the ageing engineer’s family. 79 He bore no 
grudge against defeated rivals, but it will be appreciated that in his upward path 
he had trodden heavily on many allegiances and had collected many enemies. ‘I 
am not surprised that the air is thick with stupid rumours about Lufthansa,’ he 
wrote to a company official in Shanghai in November. ‘Most of them can be 
ascribed to the fury of all those liars who have proved themselves incapable of 
putting their vile and selfish plans against us into effect.’ And he added, ‘If you 
like to think of me as having once been energetic, I suggest you now add the 
word “ruthless” — or multiply by it, whichever is easier with your slide-rule!’ 80 

Much had occurred to bolster Lufthansa’s public reputation. The Lloyd liners 
Bremen and Europa had been fitted with catapults, from which mail-carrying 
aircraft were launched several hundred miles out in the Atlantic toward New 
York. 81 The company had also supported a spectacular transatlantic seaplane, 
the 56-ton, twelve- engined Dornier X, which had flown for the first time in 
mid-July ^29. 82 Late in October Joachim von Schroder flew non-stop to Con- 
stantinople in eleven hours, involving many hours of blind flying. But for the 
time being Milch did not anticipate any transatlantic service with land-based 
aircraft. ‘As you see, we are concerned not with outward effect but with the 
steady development of air transport.’ 83 

Lufthansa’s staggering deficit was currently running at 19.8 million 
Reichsmarks when Milch took over, of which six millions were in the form of 
short-term bank drafts valid for only three months at a time. His financial as- 
sistant, Walter Luz, called on him each evening and patiently went over the 
accounts with him. Red figures dominated every page. When the major banks 
almost immediately threatened to withdraw their credit Milch asked them to 
convert the credit to long-term; they declined, so he advised his chairman that, 
since Lufthansa must regard half its capital as lost, it must declare itself bank- 
rupt under German company law (the only clause known to him at that time!). 
At this the banks precipitously changed the debt to a long-term one, to be re- 



deemed at the rate of two million Reichsmarks a year. One year later he paid 
back the first two million on time; and when after only eight more months he 
tried to repay the entire balance, the banks at first refused because of the inter- 
est they would now lose. 84 

Good husbandry alone had changed the airline’s fortunes. Milch ordered 
a ruthless clearance of spare parts at airfield level; instead of insuring the com- 
pany’s aircraft with an outside firm he devised a system of self-insurance, and 
saved the premiums; he subjected the fleet to a thorough weeding-out process, 
too. The profits were invested in an Equipment Replacement Fund, for one day 
the wonder aircraft he was dreaming of must come, and by then Lufthansa 
must have accumulated so much money that they could convert their entire 
fleet within two years at most. Significantly, he saw his airline’s role as being to 
revitalize and modernize the German air industry. In a lecture in May 1928 he 
had openly admitted this: ‘We are prepared to accept the extraordinary diver- 
sity of aircraft and engine-types, in order to give the entire German industry 
involved a means of surviving.’ 85 In September 1929 he repeated this in his first 
business report to the airline’s bankers: ‘Germany’s special position compels 
special consideration for the maintenance of a viable aircraft industry, particu- 
larly as it must be borne in mind that civil aviation is its only customer.’ 86 This 
was the reason for Lufthansa’s costly and unusually well-endowed Technical 
Development Division, with its scores of outstanding engineers; and this was the 
reason for fitting their aircraft with the most modern wireless and navigating 
equipment; and this was why sometimes their aircraft were even flying on IG 
Farben’s new experimental synthetic petrol. Erhard Milch was providing for an 
air force of the future. 

Politics were a closed book to Milch from the very outset. He had never be- 
longed to a party, since they all seemed to make very much the same promises, 
before they broke them. He had at first remained unimpressed by the gradual 
rise of the National Socialists, although his brother Werner had evidently been 
one of the earliest members, for back in November 1923 he had received a hasty 
letter from him excusing his sudden absence from his Danzig Air Mail job: 
‘Dear Erhard! I received urgent letters from Munich yesterday, summoning me 



there. I know you would have acted the same if you were twenty, but please 
forgive me if this upsets any of your plans for me ... I will let you know more 
from Munich.’ In Munich, the Nazis had just begun their abortive revolution, 
and thousands of party members had been summoned to the Bavarian capital 
to assist. 87 Over the years since Versailles, however, Erhard Milch had watched 
the government’s growing estrangement from the people, and particularly 
from the working classes; he reflected that something must have been wrong if 
even in the Kaiser’s time the workers were in opposition and even a Social De- 
mocrat republic could not cure the growing unemployment. ‘We all waited for 
leadership,’ he wrote at Nuremberg. ‘We waited for someone who would create 
work and nourishment, who would solve our social problems and would win 
the workers back for the nation. We waited as the Jews once waited for their 
Messiah.’ 88 He found himself fascinated by the marked shift in allegiance of 
Lufthansa’s salaried staff and workers from their previous acceptance of inevita- 
ble communism to an increasing support for Hitler’s party. 

His first personal contact with the National Socialists was Hermann 
Goring, and he was undoubtedly captivated by the elegant Reichstag deputy. 
Goring was about five foot nine inches tall, energetic and dazzlingly handsome, 
with ice-blue eyes and great personal presence. He spoke well, and Milch was 
impressed by his adroit and persuasive manner during the debates on the civil 
aviation budget and by his expert knowledge and grasp of difficult subjects. 89 
He was a year younger than the Lufthansa director and had been wounded in 
the stomach in the November 1923 putsch when government forces had opened 
fire. He had fled abroad and undergone medical treatment, as a result of which 
he had become a morphine addict, finally curing himself by the willpower of 
which at that time he had still been capable. He always spoke of Hitler in tones 
of awe and reverence; otherwise he never mentioned Party affairs. 

The manner in which Milch joined the Nazi Party reflected the manner 
in which it worked. The Party files retained under close American custody in 
West Berlin contain a letter from Milch to the local branch, written after the 
seizure of power, justifying his plea for a rare, early membership number: 



Early in 1929 I declared to [the now] Reichsminister Goring my 
readiness to join the NSDAP. Reichsminister Goring asked me to 
wait until he could discuss with the Fiihrer whether it would be in 
the Party’s best interests for me to join then. Reichsminister Goring 
told me the Fiihrer had decided I might regard myself as a Party 
member already, and a number would be reserved for me, but that 
the Party’s purposes would be better served by my not officially 
joining, so that I could continue my work within Deutsche Fuf- 
thansa as laid down by Reichsminister Goring. 90 

He was first introduced to Hitler in Goring’s apartment on the evening of the 
Reichstag’s tumultuous reopening after further Nazi election victories on 13 
October 1930. Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess and about a dozen members of the 
nobility were also there. 91 Hitler inquired about his previous career and work 
with Fufthansa and they spoke briefly about the development of Germany’s 
civil aviation. Milch was captured by the Party’s programme as Hitler unfolded 
it. 92 In retrospect it is likely that Goring’s invitation of Milch to the gathering 
was not a casual courtesy: Hitler was preparing a fitting position for the Fuf- 
thansa director and clandestine Party member to occupy. 

The airline was already paying out substantial sums of money. Early in 1930 it 
had issued contracts to the air industry for 8.6 million Reichsmarks. For any 
major aircraft factory to survive it had to do as Milch directed. This brutal fact 
was brought home to the intractable Professor Hugo Junkers during the year. 
To Milch’s consternation the Dessau engineer Ernst Zindel had built an aircraft 
powered by a 650-horsepower BMW engine of which only prototypes were so 
far available; this was offered to Fufthansa. Milch had high praise for the cabin 
and general construction of the fuselage, but indicated to Junkers that he would 
prefer a three-engined version. The professor flatly rejected the idea, but the 
manager of BMW was on his way to America in any case and agreed to look out 
for a suitable engine of about five hundred horsepower. 93 He discovered there 
the Pratt and Whitney ‘Hornet’ engine, and secured manufacturing rights for 
BMW. Fufthansa’s Dr Schatzki redesigned the aircraft — none other than the 


famous Junkers 52 — to carry three Hornet engines. Professor Junkers still re- 
fused to cooperate, exclaiming: ‘We don’t have to toe Lufthansa’s line!’ Fortu- 
nately the usual financial crisis descended on Dessau, and Milch agreed to bail 
the company out only on condition that they manufactured the three- engined 
Ju 52 for his airline. With many misgivings the old professor gave in.* 94 

Lufthansa technicians moved into the factory and controlled the new 
plane’s production. Milch sent his best pilot to test-fly it a few months later, on 
15 June 1932. 95 His report was so enthusiastic that Lufthansa promptly entered 
the Ju 52 to the Zurich Air Meeting a month later. The new aircraft displayed 
the shortest take-off run, the best speed and the fastest climb, and it carried the 
greatest payload. It won a great victory in the round-the-Alps competition, 
although forced to fly blind with heavy icing much of the time. 96 Milch decided 
to convert his entire fleet to the Junkers 52. With the coveted Chavez-Bider 
Cup and the first prize of eleven thousand francs in his luggage he flew back to 
Munich; after lunch he took off for Berlin in the same aircraft. A thousand feet 
up an explosion tore the port-engine, landing wheel and part of the wing away. 
The ground rushed up toward them, but the pilot gave the two remaining en- 
gines enough power to clear some trees, levelled out and brought the heavy 
aircraft down in a field of uncut corn. 97 

It seemed the end of the dream: to lose an engine and half its wing the 
aircraft must have some basic design fault. Milch staggered clear of the maimed 
aeroplane and lit a cigar, blood soaking into his Lufthansa uniform from a gash 
in his neck. He was startled by a shout from one of the crew, inspecting the 
wing. There was a strange engine and a mangled propeller embedded in it — 
and a pair of human legs. They had survived a mid-air collision. A Flamingo 
trainer had rammed them head on from out of the sun. This incident, with the 
aircraft’s relatively smooth emergency landing, was final proof of the plane’s 
amazing robustness. Milch took the night express to Berlin, his last doubts 
about the plane removed. The Junkers 52 was a significant aviation success. The 

* Milch again related this at an Air Ministry conference in December 1942, and added that it was 
documented in the files of Lufthansa: ‘It won’t have been the first time a bouncing baby was 
born to somebody quite without his wishing it!’ 



sturdy aircraft became the staple equipment of the later Luftwaffe’s transport 
squadrons; altogether 4,845 were manufactured up to the end of the war, and 
thirty airlines in twenty-five different countries made it their standard me- 
dium-range airliner. 98 

In the meantime, the world economic crisis had struck the airline just as 
Milch had paid off its last debts. The depression was to last for the next two 
years in Germany and by the end of 1931 there would be 5.66 million unem- 
ployed. 99 For the second time he had the heartbreaking job of dismissing large 
sections of his staff, about 1,200 all told. He arranged some compensation for 
them this time — the older workers, and those with families, would get more 
cash and longer notice than the younger ones. Nor did he take the easy way 
out: on 16 September 1931 he himself assembled the one thousand aircraft- 
overhaul workers in a big hangar at Staaken airfield, stood on a table and broke 
the bad news to them. 100 When he finished, a workman asked if he might speak. 
He wanted to thank the director for coming in person with the bad news and 
not just pinning up a notice announcing the dismissals. The other workers 
murmured their approval. After Milch left the hangar the entire assembly 
signed a statement to the effect that should times improve they all wanted to 
return to Lufthansa. This was the spirit he had created. 

In 1932 Milch, still a civilian 
airline manager, chartered 
Lufthansa aircraft to Adolf 
Hitler for his election tours of 
Germany. A mutual respect 
sprang up between them. 
(national archives, 

Initially his loyalties had lain unconditionally with Hindenburg. In the presi- 
dential election of mid-March 1932 Hindenburg still enjoyed a huge majority 



over Hitler; Hitler was persuaded to stand again, and a second election followed 
in April. Deprived of the use of the mass news media, Hitler chartered a 
Rohrbach Roland from Lufthansa so that he could appear in two or three cities 
every day. Milch now met him more frequently, and when he attended Hitler’s 
great meeting at the Sport Palace in Berlin on 4 April he was convinced that this 
was the leader Germany had been waiting for. 101 On the twenty-eighth he met 
Hitler again at Goring’s new apartment in Badische Strasse, and found himself 
being asked remarkably pertinent questions on civil and military aviation. 102 
Hitler openly told him that as soon as he seized power he would found a pow- 
erful air force in defiance of Versailles. Did Milch believe this would be possible 
with four hundred million Reichsmarks a year to start with? Milch replied that 
this sum was eight times the entire civil aviation budget, including the pilot 
training schools, research bodies and airfield construction. 103 

Milch now states, ‘Hitler then spoke at length on the ideas of General 
Douhet.* As early as this he was principally interested in bombing warfare as 
the best means of deterring an aggressor. He talked of the importance of pow- 
erful armed forces, in which he saw the air force as occupying a position equal 
to the army’s (at that time a totally novel concept); this was the only way for 
Germany to rid herself of the shackles of Versailles short of war itself.’ 104 Never 
before had anybody spoken so vehemently to him, and of such grand plans. 

In August Hermann Goring telephoned that Hitler was negotiating with 
Hindenburg on a coalition government in which he, Goring, would be setting 
up an ‘Air Ministry’; and next day he asked Milch if he would leave Lufthansa 
and accept the position of state secretary in that ministry. 105 Milch asked for 
time to think it over. As things turned out, Hitler and Hindenburg failed to 
agree and Goring’s plan fell through. Milch met Hitler socially twice more be- 
fore the Nazis came to power: once on 31 August at Goring’s Berlin apartment, 
surrounded by a dozen men later to occupy key positions in the Hitler gov- 
ernment; and again a week later over a private luncheon at the Kaiserhof hotel, 

* General Giulio Douhet was an Italian strategist of the twenties; in his study The Command of 
the Air he had predicted that future wars would be determined by ruthless bombing operations 



Hitler’s headquarters in the capital. 106 In the general election of 6 November he 
voted for the first time in his life. Along with fourteen million others, he voted 
for Hitler’s party. 107 The election went badly for Hitler, but Goring turned to 
Milch again on the twenty-eighth and offered him the state secretaryship in the 
government of Prussia. Milch declined the offer. 108 

He was supremely content to be chief executive of Lufthansa. The credit 
for the airline’s reputation was his alone. From China to South America the 
network of air routes controlled by his Berlin office was beginning to extend. At 
a postwar session of the Federal Chancellor’s office, when it was diplomatically 
suggested that others had played a greater role in the airline’s fortunes than 
Erhard Milch — by now discredited and convicted as a prisoner of the Allies in 
Landsberg — Konrad Adenauer interrupted the debate and stated: ‘Ladies and 
gentlemen . . . What you are saying is just not true. Those other people, Stauss 
and Weigelt, they were just the bankers; the real architect of Lufthansa was 
Herr Milch.’ 109 





January 1933-May 1937 

two nights before Hitler’s seizure of power on 30 January 1933 Goring ap- 
peared at Milch’s modest Berlin flat with his state secretary, Paul Korner, and 
told him that Hitler proposed to create an Air Ministry in the new government 
with Goring as minister, and again appealed to him to accept the post of state 
secretary there. 1 That evening Milch was already host to a dozen guests, mostly 
Lufthansa directors; he suggested to his visitor two other names for the post, 
those of Brandenburg and Admiral Lahs, president of the Society of German 
Aircraft Manufacturers. 2 Goring rejected them out of hand: ‘Make no mistake,’ 
he said, ‘I will not take no for an answer.’ He gave Milch until Monday the 
thirtieth to decide. 

On the Sunday afternoon Korner telephoned the still-unresolved Milch 
that Goring was saying he would make a perfect state secretary. Milch reminded 
him that he had not yet agreed. 3 On Monday the Lufthansa chairman and vice- 
chairman recommended him to accept the offer, provided he could remain 
honorary director of the airline as well. 4 For Milch one personal objection still 
remained. Recalling that Goring had told him about becoming accidentally ad- 
dicted to morphine in 1923, he delicately broached the subject again. Goring 
assured him that he had overcome the affliction. 5 He took him to see Hitler, 
newly appointed as Reich Chancellor, next day. 6 Hitler adroitly conquered 
Milch’s last compunctions: ‘I may not have known you for very long, but you 



are an expert in your own field, and we have nobody in the Party who knows as 
much about aviation as you. You must accept! It is not the Party calling you, it 
is Germany — Germany needs you in this office!’ ‘Thereupon,’ Milch explained 
at his trial, ‘I accepted.’ 

Initially there was no Air Ministry as such. Goring was appointed ‘Reich 
Commissioner for Aviation’ and Milch was his deputy. 7 They immediately be- 
gan work on the enlargement of the existing secret air force. Since 1931 flying 
training had been carried on at the ‘commercial pilot’ training schools on behalf 
of the Reichswehr. Milch was aware of the German fighter and reconnaissance 
training school set up some years before on Russian soil at Lipezk, and as re- 
cently as September 1932 he had flown to Moscow and inspected the establish- 
ment built by the German Aeronautical Research Institute at Yagi for the secret 
development of new aircraft and aero-engines. Although about 120 fighter pi- 
lots and 100 observers passed through Lipezk, these beginnings in Russia had 
more political than military significance. It was in Germany itself that the dra- 
matic expansion now took place. 8 

Hitler’s policies centred on regaining Germany’s strategic position, as he 
confided to the Reichswehr commanders within a few days of taking office. 9 
This meant rebuilding the Wehrmacht as an instrument of foreign policy. 
Clearly, he said, ‘the most dangerous time will be while the Wehrmacht is being 
built up. Then we shall see whether France has any statesmen, for if she has, she 
will not give us the time we need, but will fall upon us, most probably in concert 
with her satellites in the east.’ Hitler’s policy of rapid, concealed rearmament 
was transmitted to Milch in the shape of two basic dicta. Goring told him, ‘I 
collect planes like others collect postage stamps’; and not unrelated to this, 
‘Money is no object’.* Otherwise Milch had a free hand. At a cabinet meeting 
on 9 February 1933 he was advised that forty million Reichsmarks would be 
made available for aviation; in fact, encouraged by the new Defence Minister 
von Blomberg and Goring, he was soon dispensing sums of money far in excess 

* Defence Minister von Blomberg had a similarly generous attitude toward financing the Luft- 
waffe. On 18 October 1935 Milch noted him saying, ‘There is no ceiling on credit for the financ- 
ing of rearmament!’ By 1937 the ceiling was none the less found, as a raw materials crisis set in. 



of that budget. 10 

The War Office still believed that it would control the secret air squad- 
rons. Milch and Goring knew differently. Milch shunned the office space 
offered him by the Transport Ministry as well — with its scent of centuries of 
mouldering documents and cobwebs of red tape — and moved instead early in 
March 1933 into the empty head office of a bank ruined in the Wall Street crash 
of 1931. 11 There, in Behrenstrasse, he occupied the former desk of Dr Hjalmar 
Schacht, who was now President of the Reich Bank. He had the old boardroom 
furnished for Goring, but Goring officiated there only twice. 12 A German Fly- 
ing Sport Association, which had long existed to provide a legal basis for pilot 
training of ‘amateurs’, was absorbed into the embryo ministry later that month 
and a uniform designed for it — international air force blue, with one shoulder 
lanyard. 13 The otherwise identical uniform of the State flying schools, training 
future military airmen, was distinguished by having two lanyards. Blomberg, an 
officer of considerable vision, furthered the new air force’s cause with great im- 
partiality — he was himself an infantry general — giving up some of his best 
army officers to fill the secret force’s ranks. About 550 trained airmen were im- 
mediately transferred from the army and navy, followed by about four thou- 
sand young officers and NCOs volunteering for the new force. 14 Indeed Blom- 
berg proved to be a more zealous visitor of air force units than Goring, and the 
most important orders of the following months were issued over Milch’s name 

This was not surprising. Goring was constructing a new police state and 
was enmeshed in internal politics. It was not until 29 March that he realized the 
advances that had been made in aircraft and equipment design, when Milch 
took him to see Rechlin air station. He trusted Milch implicitly, and it was the 
state secretary who decided on the contours of the air force he was building. 
Instinctively, or perhaps from his talks with Hitler, he recognized that only a 
predominantly bomber force would deter Germany’s neighbours from inter- 
fering in the rearmament programme. When Goring took him to Rome in 
April he made this point to the Italians. Mussolini agreed with this risky strat- 
egy. But General Balbo, his Chief of Air Staff, warned him urgently against de- 
fying Versailles: an all-fighter, all-reconnaissance force would be both safe and 



adequate, he considered. Later Milch was forced to reflect, ‘Nowhere was the 
strategy of air warfare less heeded than in the native land of General Douhet.’ 15 
In their hotel that evening Goring thoroughly approved Milch’s decision: ‘Do 
as you think best,’ was his only comment. The Italians promised to supply 
fighter aircraft and provide training facilities, but perhaps for political reasons 
the aircraft were never delivered. 

Upon their return to Berlin the last army opposition to a separate Air 
Ministry had been overcome. 16 On 6 May Milch commissioned studies for a 
thousand-aircraft programme, a significant number of which were to be bomb- 
ers. 17 Lufthansa’s traffic manager submitted to him a detailed memorandum in 
which the concept of a provisional ‘deterrent air force’ ( Risiko Flotte), with 
which any potential aggressor must reckon, was set out; Milch arranged with 
him that in the event of an emergency the airline should provide aircraft for 
five bomber Staffeln flights of about nine aircraft. 18 On ro May Blomberg di- 
rected that the air operations staff recently set up in his Defence Ministry under 
Colonel Bohnstedt — a monocled army officer of the old guard — should be 
transferred to the Air Ministry upon its formal activation on r5 May. 19 This 
order is rightly described as the ‘birth certificate’ of the Luftwaffe. Milch left 
Bohnstedt to his own devices. Blomberg’s chief of staff, Reichenau, later told 
him that in appointing Bohnstedt, the then Chief of the Army Command Gen- 
eral Kurt von Hammerstein had sardonically pronounced him ‘the stupidest 
clot I could find in my General Staff. This would ensure that nothing would 
ever come of the Luftwaffe. 20 

Hitler publicly announced his rearmament intentions in the Reichstag a 
few days later, justifying Germany’s demand for at least token forces of the 
same types of weapons as in the hands of her neighbours. 21 At the Geneva dis- 
armament conferences meantime the German representatives modestly re- 
quested permission to operate a force of five hundred fighter and reconnais- 
sance aircraft. No mention was made of bombers. 22 As Blomberg stated to his 
commanders early in June 1933, it was illusory to expect any concrete conces- 
sions toward German military sovereignty at Geneva. Illicit rearmament was the 
only way. ‘Over the next few years the Wehrmacht must devote itself wholly to 
the task of creating the reserves denied us until now. A Panzer army and an air 



force are to be established. The Officer Corps of the latter is to be an elite, fired 
only by the will to win. It will be necessary to give it preference over everything 
else, and this must be understood by the other branches of the Wehrmacht.’ 23 
When unidentified aircraft showered communist leaflets on Berlin on 22 June, 
it was Milch who took this opportunity of drawing attention to Germany’s im- 
potence to defend her air space; he issued a public statement that their neigh- 
bours had ten thousand armed war planes, and demanded German equality. 24 
At a meeting with Blomberg, Schacht and Raeder — commander-in-chief of the 
navy — Hitler openly praised the absent Milch’s efficiency. 25 

Financing this rearmament was a problem of its own. Hitler put the com- 
plete programme’s cost at thirty thousand million Reichsmarks. 26 Milch was at 
the crucial cabinet meeting where the matter was resolved. 27 The Finance Min- 
ister, von Krosigk, told Hitler it would be impossible to raise funds for any 
grandiose armament programme, and the Prussian Finance Minister Popitz 
echoed his pessimism. At this juncture Schacht suddenly interjected, ‘ Herr 
Reichskanzler, I have an idea how we could raise the money.’ Hitler asked how 
much and the banker answered coolly, ‘A few thousand millions.’ Hitler asked 
Schacht what he would need, and the latter replied, ‘The assistance of Herr 
Milch.’ Milch was as speechless as his minister, as his contacts with Schacht had 
previously been minimal. 28 He went next day to see Schacht: the banker’s pro- 
posal was a classic example of Keynesian economics. An old skeleton company — 
eventually the Metal Research Company ‘Mefo’ was chosen — should be guar- 
anteed by the Reichsbank and used to cover the financing of industry with its 
own bills of exchange, of nominal validity of three months, automatically ex- 
tended each time. These Reich-backed ‘Mefo-bills’ could be discounted at the 
Reichsbank at any time, and would go to selected big industrial concerns as 
payment. Milch and Schacht were the directors of the company. It was a neat 
economic trick, but not an illicit one. 

The air force’s armament over the next six years cost an average of three 
thousand million Reichsmarks each year; thanks to ‘Mefo’ and the Air Minis- 
try’s insistence on the expanding air industry’s finding its own capital for ex- 
pansion, these figures were successfully concealed from public scrutiny. By the 
end of 1933 the air force was employing two million workers on airfield and 



factory construction. 29 Milch’s target for late 1935, as discussed with Blomberg’s 
chief of staff on 19 June 1933, was a force of six hundred front-line aircraft in- 
cluding nine bomber wings (taking Lufthansa’s contribution into account). 
Both Milch and Reichenau opposed the allocation of any bomber or fighter 
units to the navy — a major error, vehemently opposed by Raeder, and subse- 
quently regretted by Milch. The conference note concluded, ‘This programme 
is to be carried out under camouflage as far as possible.’ 30 

The camouflage was a necessity for the next two years. On 25 July Milch 
issued orders designed ‘to make it impossible for foreign powers to prove actual 
violations of our existing foreign commitments’ and ‘to prevent foreign powers 
from deriving any clear picture of the rate of growth, or of the actual size and 
organization of the Luftwaffe we are founding’. 31 After confidential talks with 
the Transport Ministry, the Reichsbahn became the first railway concern in 
Europe to own an airline, conveniently operating only by night between two 
distant points, Berlin and Konigsberg — the old Danzig Air Mail route. 32 These 
‘RB-routes’ served only one purpose, the training of aircrews in long-distance 
overland night flying in multi-engined aircraft; the Reichsbahn airline was an 
offshoot of Lufthansa’s auxiliary bomber wing. At the head office in Berlin a 
locked door barred access to the harmlessly named ‘Traffic Inspectorate’; but its 
staff were in reality civilian-clothed Reichswehr officers organizing the airline 
for war mobilization and training its personnel in war tactics at courses known 
simply as ‘navigation courses’. 33 

Colonel Bohnstedt eventually approached Milch with his own plans for 
the future Luftwaffe. He envisaged 144 fighters, twelve bombers and some re- 
connaissance aircraft, some two hundred aircraft in all. Milch told him that he 
was planning to have six hundred aircraft for his front line by 1935, predomi- 
nantly bombers; Bohnstedt’s jaw sagged and he had to sit down. Eventually he 
gasped, ‘But this is terrible! Poor Germany!’ Bohnstedt was retired in August, 
and a few days later a new organization came into effect which was to remain 
substantially the same for the next four years. 34 Soon Milch was considering a 
programme far in excess of the thousand-aircraft programme he had been 
thinking of in May, increasing the aircraft industry by twenty or thirty times to 
that end. 



He had started this aspect of his work in March 1933, in tough negotiations with 
Junkers. The chief difficulty was the old professor himself, by now seventy- four 
years old, a convinced democrat and pacifist. 35 Both Goring and Milch insisted 
that he transfer his key patents on aircraft designs to the Junkers Aero-Engine 
and Junkers Aircraft companies before the Reich would issue contracts to them. 
Milch went one stage further and insisted on the dismissal of a number of 
Junkers’s senior staff who had been identified as security risks. 36 The professor 
regarded it as a political vendetta and wrote a tragic commentary in his personal 
diaries. ‘Political hatred is a bad coachman — it whips the horses until they bolt 
and the carriage ends up in the ditch.’ 37 Early in April Milch summoned 
Junkers to his ministry and issued the first of many ultimatums to him, but the 
old man dug his heels in further; so he was forbidden to leave Dessau and this 
restriction was raised only at the end of May when he finally agreed to Milch’s 
terms. This by no means marked the end of the affair, however. 

With the Dornier and Heinkel aircraft companies the Air Ministry was on 
a surer footing. In June Milch sent Colonel Albert Kesselring, the brilliant ad- 
ministrative and financial expert provided for him by the army, to inspect the 
Heinkel works on the Baltic coast; the outcome was that Heinkel was invited to 
establish a big new factory at Rostock, a few miles away. 38 At the same time 
Milch issued to Messerschmitt’s Bavarian Aircraft Company a contract for the 
construction under licence of Dornier 11 bombers. As each month passed his 
plans grew larger. In mid-August 1933 he ordered the establishment within 
twelve months of a dozen specialized air-training schools, for observers, bomb- 
aimers, air gunners, fighter pilots, mechanics and navy cooperation airmen. 39 
He drew up a still larger aircraft production programme, reflecting the new 
emphasis he was properly placing on training. It provided for the manufacture 
of more than four thousand aircraft in the next twenty-one months, of which 
no fewer than 1,760 were to be turned over to the training units. 40 He con- 
verted factories manufacturing railway locomotives, rolling-stock and shipping 
to the manufacture of aircraft and components; without Professor Junkers’s 
knowledge, as early as 24 March he had entered into talks with the ATG rail- 
way- wagon factory, owned by his friend the wealthy industrialist Friedrich 



Flick, for the manufacture of Junkers aircraft. 41 

No industry had ever seen a revolution like it. Before Hitler’s seizure of 
power the entire aircraft industry in Germany had employed less than four 
thousand workers; Junkers, with 2,200 employees, could construct only eight- 
een Ju 52 aircraft a year, provided all other types ceased production. Milch 
changed all that. 42 On 22 August he disclosed to Klaus Junkers, the professor’s 
son, that the factory was to be given a contract for roughly one thousand Ju 52s 
and a number of the older W33 and W34 types to serve as trainers. Of these the 
first 178 Ju 52s and 45 of the others were to be delivered in 1934. It would mean a 
revolutionary new production system. 43 At the same time Milch ordered a 
thousand Dornier 11 and Dornier 13 aircraft from other factories. These planes 
were already obsolete, but he intended to instill into the money market con- 
fidence in the air industry as such, and give tens of thousands of workers vital 
experience in the newest techniques involved in aircraft and aero-engine 
manufacture. 44 By r937, under Milch’s leadership the air industry would be 
employing 230,000 men, of whom 121,000 were manufacturing airframes and 
73,000 engines; and still the expansion would not be complete. 45 

Of all the departmental heads now officiating under Milch and Goring — Colo- 
nels Wimmer, Kesselring and Stumpff and the civil servant Fisch — none was to 
be rated so highly in retrospect as the man Milch selected to succeed Bohnstedt 
as the first real Chief of Air Staff. Originally the choice lay between two army 
colonels, von Manstein and Wever, but the Defence Minister assessed Manstein 
as somewhat old-fashioned, hostile to technological advance and certainly no 
admirer of aviation, so Milch asked for Wever, a level-headed officer who, 
though only a captain, had been LudendorfP s adjutant in the First World War. 
Blomberg released Wever only very reluctantly, saying he was losing a future C- 
in-C of the Army in doing so. 46 

Milch encouraged Wever, like all his senior staff, to learn to fly, and gave 
him Douhet’s book to read. But Wever already had a mind of his own — he 
pondered night and day on the tactical and strategic problems of air power and 
in a short time had conjured up more bright ideas than all the professional air- 
men had between them. Late in August Milch had inspected the blueprints of 



the Heinkel in bomber at Heinkel’s factory; this was a medium-range aircraft, 
suitable for hostilities with France or Germany’s other neighbours. 47 He and 
Wever agreed that the next immediate requirement was for a heavy bomber, 
with a range characterized by Milch in the following words: ‘It must be able to 
fly right round Britain under combat conditions.’ This was principally for at- 
tacking Britain’s shipping lanes. A specification was put out for a four- engined 
bomber for Dornier and Junkers to develop. 48 Not long after an excuse was 
found to give Goring an army general’s uniform (he had refused any lower 
rank), and Blomberg settled that Milch should be appointed colonel, with just 
sufficient seniority to issue orders to his Chief of Air Staff. No use could yet be 
made of the Luftwaffe’s real uniform, which Milch secretly demonstrated to 
Goring on 4 October. 49 

Goring builds the Luftwaffe: ‘And look as morning 
dawns afar, our man has built the Luftwaffe!’ 


Hitler meantime withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and the 
Geneva Conference in mid-October 1933. While Hitler made cynical offers to 
the separate governments on the limitation of air forces and the prohibition of 



bombing, Milch issued the first firm production contracts for exclusively mili- 
tary aircraft . 50 Weeks of internal crisis followed the German withdrawal; Hitler 
played for time by asking the British to allow Germany a three- hundred- 
thousand-man army with no offensive weapons like tanks, heavy artillery or 
bombers, and he again proposed that poison-gas warfare and bombing of civil- 
ian targets should be absolutely prohibited . 51 All these suggestions were flatly 
rejected. Two days after the withdrawal Milch began a series of conferences on 
increasing aircraft production . 52 For several weeks Berlin expected military in- 
tervention by her neighbours: Goring was moved to deep depression , 53 and 
Milch’s diary shows even old Gustav Krupp to have been flatly opposed to any 
action contrary to the spirit of Versailles, refusing to allow any participation of 
his armament works in the rearmament of Germany . 54 In Goring’s absence in 
Sweden Milch began discussions with Blomberg on a secret Wehrmacht last- 
ditch directive for defending Germany if the worst came to the worst. It spoke 
of the Reich’s resolve to resist, ‘regardless of the prospects of success’. The secret 
air force was to defend Berlin and the mid-German industrial towns as best it 
could. Milch considered the time ripe to reread Douhet himself, and did so . 55 

Under this fearful prospect of foreign intervention he summoned an in- 
dustrialists’ conference on 20 October. One of Flick’s directors, Dr Heinrich 
Koppenberg, wrote: 

In addition to the ministry’s top officials I saw not only aircraft and 
engine factory chiefs but also senior directors of the industry pro- 
ducing light-weight and heavy raw materials. The assembly was 
presided over by State Secretary Milch. He appealed to the depend- 
ability, loyalty, ardour and patriotism of those present, and indi- 
cated that for Germany the hour had struck for the construction of 
a new air force. The climax of the meeting was when Hermann 
Goring entered, silently greeted by all present with arms raised in 
salute. He announced that the Fuhrer has ordered him to establish 
Germany as an air power ‘ within one year . 56 

The principal factory was Junkers. The process of removing the obstinate 



professor from his autocratic control of the factories and patents was not a gen- 
tle one. Weakened by old age, he had withdrawn to Bavaria and surrounded 
himself with lawyers to fight off the Air Ministry’s claims. Milch had no desire 
to hinder his former chief s valuable pure research, but the Reich considered 
that it had a strong claim to the factories, having alone kept the company afloat 
by subsidies and inflated Lufthansa orders. 57 The professor was told bluntly 
that unless he agreed to sell control of his two companies to the Reich he would 
be banished from Dessau for ever 58 ; in addition, the long-postponed criminal 
investigation of the Fili affair* would begin, and prosecution for treason (on a 
technicality) would be put in hand. 59 The professor still hesitated; he was 
thereupon fetched under police escort from his Bavarian retreat and flown to 
Dessau, where a public prosecutor repeated the threat of criminal proceedings. 
At 2 a.m. on 18 October, after six hours of interrogation, the old man gave in 
and signed over fifty-one percent of his companies to the Reich. Milch was in- 
formed of this at midday. 60 On the thirtieth he indicated to Koppenberg that 
he was going to appoint him chairman of both companies. Kesselring asked the 
Dessau criminal authorities to continue their investigation. 61 Faced with this 
persisting threat, Junkers relinquished his chairmanship of both companies on 
24 November, and Koppenberg replaced him. 62 

On Party instructions the ailing professor was banished to Bavaria and 
never saw Dessau again. Milch undertook to lift the house arrest if he agreed to 
sell off his remaining shares to the Reich, and in mid-February 1934 the profes- 
sor gave way here too, but even then he prolonged the actual negotiations and a 
new ultimatum had to be issued over Milch’s name. It expired at 10 a.m. on 30 
August, but on Hitler’s instructions Milch refrained from allowing any further 
measures against Junkers. In any case the latter’s old age was about to put a 
natural end to the whole distasteful affair. 63 The ministry sent a party with a 
wreath to the funeral, but the family were so incensed that they threatened to 
stage it elsewhere. Milch’s officers were fetched off the train half-way and or- 
dered back to Berlin. From this time on there were few troubles with what 
Milch was to make one of the biggest industrial combines in the world. 64 

* See page 16. 



The new Junkers general manager was one of the most forceful personali- 
ties to break into the German air industry: robust, bull-necked and choleric, 
Koppenberg was a former mechanic who had made his name building a new 
steelworks for Flick. He expanded the Junkers companies with ‘literally Ameri- 
can bustle’. 65 On the day after his appointment he rented a railway locomotive 
repair factory at South Dessau; within six weeks he was producing fuselages for 
the Ju 52 aircraft there. In December 1933 he and Milch reached agreement on 
the construction of a modern factory next to the old one at Dessau, concen- 
trating on conveyer-belt production methods; while in February 1934 the site 
was still an open field, three months later the buildings were complete and pro- 
duction had already begun. His ultimate target was the assembly of two hun- 
dred aircraft and one thousand engines a month, with other factories acting as 
component manufacturers. 66 By the end of 1934 the firm was employing four 
times as many workers as twelve months before. The fate of Professor Junkers, 
outlawed from his own home town and factory, remained an awful warning to 
all the other aircraft manufacturers. 

Toward the end of January 1934 Poland signed a non-aggression pact with Hit- 
ler. Blomberg advised his commanders that after fifteen years of tension along 
their eastern frontier Germany could devote all her efforts to expanding the 
Wehrmacht. Hitler’s aim was to keep this peace for a number of years, and even 
then he had no intention of attacking anybody, or at least so Blomberg empha- 
sized. ‘But at the end of that time the Reich is to be in a position to intervene 
actively in foreign affairs.’ 67 Milch’s papers show that he currently planned that 
by the autumn of 1938 they would be producing 525 bombers, 120 fighters and 
127 other types of aircraft every month. 68 

Attention now turned to the threat of a French attack on Germany. As 
early as the summer of 1933 Milch had begun extensive air-raid shelter con- 
struction in Berlin. 69 His 1934 notes chronicle his growing concern with the 
west: one French bomb would suffice to immobilize Cologne’s huge power sta- 
tion; they must have smoke-screens for the Ruhr; he recorded a demand from 
Hitler for ‘special towers for flak, heavily armoured, rearing 100 feet above a 
city’s skyline as a protection against low-level attack’; he was authorized to start 



building a vast new Reich Air Ministry building and a modern underground 
operations centre near Potsdam. 70 At the end of January he also studied ways of 
meeting the air force’s needs for scarce materials under wartime blockade con- 
ditions. IG Farben was to investigate the large-scale production of synthetic 
fuels, with a twenty-million-Reichsmark grant from Air Ministry funds. A 
similar grant was paid for research into synthetic rubber. AEG received three 
million Reichsmarks to develop means of running power lines underground 
near airfields. 71 Money was still no object. 

On 7 November 4933 Milch had obtained from Schacht a guarantee of 
over a thousand million Reichsmarks for the financial year 1934-5. 72 The gov- 
ernment budget publicly disclosed at the end of March 1934 revealed barely a 
fifth of this true amount, 210 millions, but even this was three times the amount 
of the previous year. 73 The German Foreign Office answered alarmed British 
official inquiries that the increase was largely necessary for the expansion of 
Lufthansa — the modernization of its aircraft fleet and establishment.* 74 The 
French were not deceived and protested to Britain that it was obvious that 
Germany was snapping her fingers at Versailles. When Milch, now a major- 
general, discussed this increasingly threadbare deception with Hitler, the latter 
replied: ‘I could not tell a he to benefit myself, but for Germany there is no he I 
would not utter.’ 75 

Seldom can deception have been practised on a larger scale: all over Ger- 
many the scars left by the air force construction programme were to be seen. 
Two million workers were building new airfields, emergency landing grounds 
and the ground control stations, flying schools and barracks that the new force 
would need; hundreds of men were being recruited every week. The new 
buildings sported nameplates like ‘Air Transport Office of the Reich Autobahn’, 
‘Central German Display Squadron’, ‘Air Depot of Volunteer Labour Service’ 
and ‘South German Lufthansa Co.’ 76 Lufthansa’s commercial manager almost 
collapsed when he mistakenly received an astronomical bill for a new building 
for the latter company, an almost defunct subsidiary. 77 Word reached President 

* When war broke out in 1939 Lufthansa contributed 116 aircraft for transport and training 



Hindenburg and he sent for Milch: ‘One hears so much these days about a 
“strategic air force”. I’m an old army man myself and I don’t understand much 
about this new-fangled idea. Would you like to explain it to me?’ Milch asked 
him how much time he could spare, and Hindenburg replied, ‘It depends how 
much time you need — I am an old man and can’t spare long.’ Offered a quar- 
ter of an hour, Milch diplomatically suggested eight minutes and was finished 
in seven. ‘The way you explain it,’ Hindenburg complimented him, ‘I now un- 
derstand it perfectly. Your ideas are well founded, even if somewhat unfamiliar 
to me at first. Keep on the same track even if others should not agree with you.’ 
Twenty years later, Milch could still hear the deep, melodious voice of the 
president in his ears. 78 

By now his support for Hitler was unconditional. He understood nothing of 
Hitler’s programme; he had begun to read Mein Kampf but had given up after 
the first twenty pages. 79 But he recognized the Nazis as the first party to succeed 
in fighting unemployment. Just after the seizure of power he had once accom- 
panied Goring to Dortmund and been shocked by the starving and ashen-faced 
children clustering in the working-class streets; in mid-March 1934 he returned 
to the Ruhr with Goring and rejoiced at the change that had come about. At 
Nuremberg he was to say, ‘It was small wonder that all of us believed in the 
man, after that, and that we would have said that anybody who predicted Hit- 
ler would lead us into a world war and would not stop until Germany was in 
ruins was a lunatic.’ 80 

Yet the warning signs were there by 1934, and Milch was a first-hand wit- 
ness of them, and particularly of the ruthlessness with which Hitler purged the 
SA, Ernst Rohm’s brownshirt Party army. That Hitler was disturbed at the SA’s 
military ambitions became evident to Milch early on, and was confirmed by a 
macabre incident involving the notorious Berlin SA commander, Ernst, and 
one of Milch’s officers: after an exchange of insults outside a bar, fists had flown 
and Ernst’s adjutant had threatened the officer with a drawn pistol; the Luft- 
waffe officer, one Lieutenant Schalke, had formally challenged him to a duel. 
The whole matter was chased up through official channels until the files landed 
on the desks of Milch and Rohm themselves, and Hitler also heard of the im- 



minent duel; he sent for Milch and expressed his approval. Seeing the general’s 
astonished expression, Hitler added, ‘Ernst has been asking for this for some 
time!’ He was visibly downcast when Milch explained that it was only Ernst’s 
adjutant who was involved. 81 The duel took place and the brownshirt officer 
was adequately injured by the first fusillade. He was removed to hospital and he 
alone escaped the massacre which awaited all his colleagues a few days later. 82 

Among the indications that Rohm was planning to overthrow Hitler was a 
statement to Goring by the SA officer Theodor Croneiss, vice-chairman of 
Messerschmitt’s aircraft factory and a life-long enemy of Milch, to the effect 
that he knew of the plans and had, moreover, been designated Goring’s suc- 
cessor; that Rohm saw in Croneiss his future Air Minister is also known from 
Messerschmitt sources. 83 On 29 June Goring told Milch that the revolution was 
likely in the next few days; Milch was to take all necessary steps to defend air 
force installations. 84 He already had four companies of airmen, a total of about 
eight hundred, undergoing basic training under Colonel Kurt Student at 
Jiiterbog airfield (‘German Glider Research Institute, Spare Parts Depot’) out- 
side Berlin; he sent them to guard Berlin’s airfields and the Air Ministry build- 
ing in Behrenstrasse, and he ordered fighter planes, such as they were, to stand 
by. Korner later told Milch that Goring sent him that afternoon to Hitler in the 
Ruhr, with the final proof of Rohm’s guilt — evidently telephone conversations 
intercepted by Goring’s efficient Forschungsamt .* Hitler flew south to root out 
the conspirators. 

Next morning was 30 June. While flying in his trainer over Berlin Milch 
was recalled and ordered to report at once to Goring. At Goring’s villa he 
found General von Fritsch, the new Army C-in-C, with Reichenau, Wever, 
Korner and the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. 85 ‘My house looked like a 
castle of refuge,’ Goring later said. ‘They all felt safe in my house, so they came 
to me for protection. Even Herr Frick [Minister of the Interior] came slinking 
in, pale as a sicked-up pea!’ 86 Korner told Milch that the Gestapo had captured 
execution lists drawn up by Rohm, on which were the names of Goring, Milch 

* Literally ‘Research Office’; the telephone-tappers were called ‘researchers’, but otherwise this 
name was purely camouflage. 



and many others. Goring personally forced his way into the SA’s Berlin head- 
quarters and arrested the lot of them; Ernst himself had fled to the north. 87 
Hitler was in southern Germany, stamping out the wasps’ nest there; a wave of 
executions was sweeping the Reich. 

Milch was shown into a small inner room in Goring’s villa. For the next 
half hour he was the witness — and the only surviving one who talked — of the 
execution council in session. Himmler was slowly reading out a list of names, 
none of which Milch recognized. Goring and von Reichenau were nodding 
assent or shaking their beads to each name in turn. If all were in agreement, 
Himmler dictated the name to Korner, adding curtly: ‘Confirmation!’ The sin- 
gular atmosphere of this dark conclave is well illustrated by the moment when 
one of the three suggested a name evidently not on the list, a certain diplomat’s 
aunt who had attracted much displeasure in Party circles for her excessive Nazi 
zeal. (‘A thousandfold Sieg Heil ! ’) All heaved with nervous laughter at the 
thought of including her. From time to time Paul Korner took the lengthening 
scroll of names outside, where others telephoned the instructions to trustwor- 
thy officers on the spot. It was obvious to Milch that the men listed were not 
being singled out for promotion. 88 Other authors have effectively quoted Julius 
Caesar: ‘These many then shall die, their names are prick’d ... He shall not live. 
Took, with a spot I damn him!’ From the evidence of Erhard Milch we know 
now that that was just the way it was. By the time he wrote his diary that night, 
about a hundred of the putschists had been shot. 

That evening they drove in a fleet of black Mercedes limousines to Tem- 
pelhof airport to await Hitler’s return. A Ju 52 arrived from the north, bringing 
back the SA commander Ernst, heavily manacled, from Bremen. Hitler landed 
not long afterward, looking pale as death and graver than Milch had ever seen 
him. He greeted the waiting officials and SS and Party units paraded on the 
tarmac. Then orders rang out and four hundred airmen smartly presented 
arms — the two companies detailed by Milch to guard the airport. Hitler’s face 
reflected his astonishment. He asked Goring who these uniformed men were; 
Goring asked Milch, and Milch replied that this was the new air force. Hitler 
complimented Goring: ‘This is the first welcome sight today. The men have 
been well chosen for their race!’ 89 



Within a few weeks the state secretary was mentally cataloguing a number 
of inconsistencies about the official version of the putsch given by Hitler in cabi- 
net and in the Reichstag. All his endeavours to inspect the ‘black list’ said to 
have been drawn up by Rohm were unavailing. 90 Rohm himself had been exe- 
cuted. As for Croneiss, the informant, Goring took him under his wing after 
the bloody purge; he emerged with high rank in Himmler’s now independent 
SS and was allowed to retain his very sensitive position in the German aviation 
industry until his death in 1942. 91 

Well-balanced though Milch’s plans for the size and composition of the future 
air force were, the actual striking power would inevitably remain meagre for 
some years. At the beginning of July 1934 the ministry adopted a new aircraft 
construction programme under which 4,021 aircraft would be built during the 
next fourteen months, including 822 bombers; the rest were predominantly 
trainers and fighters. 92 Hitler, however, demanded that they set their sights still 
higher and summoned Goring, Milch and Wever to see him at Bayreuth at the 
end of July. Wever had long urged Milch to resist such demands, but Goring 
willingly complied with them and actually insulted Milch in front of Hitler 
when he raised practical objections. Wever weakened and sided with Goring, an 
act for which he apologized to Milch during the flight back to Berlin: he ad- 
mitted that with the best will in the world Hitler’s new target was impossible. 93 
Milch knew that they could not train aircrew or squadron commanders, or 
build airfields, fast enough. In his opinion Goring wanted only a propaganda 
air force. Milch — by now a general — wanted the real thing. 94 

His relations with the Air Minister were already see-sawing sharply. Next 
time they went to see Hitler together, at Berchtesgaden in August 1934, Goring 
brushed him aside and said he would not need him to be present; Hitler over- 
rode Goring’s objection. Next day Goring apologized to Milch and at the end of 
the month confided to him that he had asked Hitler to approve him as the next 
Air Minister, should anything ever happen to himself. 95 

Despite the claims by Mr Winston Churchill that Germany’s illegal air 
force was ‘rapidly approaching equality with our own’, the Luftwaffe was still 
weak, and it was tactically aligned not against Britain but against France. 96 We 



know from Blomberg’s and Hitler’s secret speeches of this period — particularly 
from a secret conference held by Blomberg on 9 October — that Germany’s 
intention was to secure air parity with France, whose intentions Hitler sus- 
pected. 97 And there is a telling passage in General Milch’s private notebook for 
the first months of 1935, in which he recorded — evidently after discussion with 
Hitler — what was to be Germany’s future strength and political alignment. The 
German navy was to be thirty-five percent of the British Royal Navy’s size; the 
army was to be as big as the French army, and the Luftwaffe as big as the RAF or 
the French air force. No hostilities were envisaged with Britain at all; indeed, 
should armed conflict with the Soviet Union break out, as Milch quoted Hitler, 
‘We must fasten our hopes on Great Britain’. 98 In a further secret speech noted 
by Milch on 12 January 1935, Blomberg explained to his commanders: ‘We must 
feign as much armed strength as we can, in order to look as powerful as possible 
to the western powers.’ And he added, ‘We are only putting together the sca- 
ffolding at present. The Fiihrer gives us full credit for this — but he expects 
more.’ 99 

In the same month Milch laid the foundation stone of the new Reich Air 
Ministry building in Leipzigerstrasse, Berlin. He cleared the site with character- 
istic inflexibility; when Hitler and Goring ordered the old Royal Prussian War 
Ministry on that site to be preserved as a historic example of the work of the 
Prussian architect Schinkel, Milch secured an expert opinion that it was not, 
and settled the dispute arbitrarily one night with five thousand demolition 
workers. Ten months later the new building was ‘topped out’, and a few weeks 
after that the first thousand of the huge edifice’s 4,500 rooms were being occu- 
pied. 100 All over Germany the still-secret air force’s new barracks and other in- 
stallations were springing up, designed by some of the country’s finest archi- 
tects. 101 Milch issued orders for the construction of scores of ‘caretaker’ airfields 
— unmanned landing grounds about 500 yards wide and 1,100 yards long, al- 
ready provided with the necessary underground fuel dumps and flarepath 
equipment, to be completed by the autumn of 1938. 102 

When Milch reported to Party leaders in Berlin in mid-February 1935 one 
of them, Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg, marvelled at ‘the fact that within two 
years there has emerged from a completely naked country a Reich to be reck- 



oned with, a Reich that even now nobody can affront with impunity’. And 
Goring — who had not bothered to visit the first secret units until 1 November 
the previous year — boasted at the same gathering, ‘Apart from Russia, whose 
strength is somewhat obscure, Germany will have the biggest air force in the 
world by this autumn.’ 103 Quantitatively this was not true, but qualitatively 
there could be no doubt: Junkers draughtsmen were already designing a fast 
medium bomber which was to become the famous Junkers 88, and Dr Koppen- 
berg reported in the same month that preliminary work on the four-engined 
Ju 89 heavy bomber was complete. 104 Simultaneously Milch fashioned the 
mould for the new Luftwaffe’s officers in a basic directive: ‘It is a fundamental 
requirement for staff and technical officers of the higher echelons to have had 
practical operational experience,’ he laid down. And, conversely, ‘The paths to 
the very highest positions of command are open to every officer suitable for 
them.’ He wanted the best men for the job, without favouritism and without 
fear. 105 

The existence of a German air force was by now an open secret. At the Berlin 
funeral of an airman Milch saw one boy pointing to the uniformed airmen 
present and whisper loudly to his friend, ‘The ones with the two shoulder- 
straps are the real ones; the others are just pretending!’ 106 During February 1935 
Hitler signed a decree that on 1 March the ‘Reich Luftwaffe’ would be founded, 
as a third service next to the Reich army and the Reich navy, with the present 
Air Minister Goring as its first C-in-C. 107 At the same time Blomberg author- 
ized Goring to uncamouflage the air force, ‘step by step’, while carefully avoid- 
ing any measure which might provoke public comment. 108 In executing these 
orders Wever decreed that the size, type and composition of the Luftwaffe’s 
units were to remain as secret as before. 109 In the event Hitler’s nose was put out 
of joint by a premature British government announcement of a significant 
strengthening of the RAF, and the formal and somewhat circumlocutory dis- 
closure of the existence of a Luftwaffe was made at attache level on 10 March. 

In Milch’s eyes this violation of Versailles, and the introduction of con- 
scription a few days later, was the most critical moment, when the Versailles 
signatories would have been justified in intervening. Nor could Germany have 



offered much resistance: of the 2,500 aircraft in the new Luftwaffe only some 
800 were of front-line types and these were distributed among the training 
school as well as the operational squadrons. When Hitler, Goring and Milch 
inspected the new service on 28 March, the lighters mustered by the ‘Rich- 
thofen’ squadron for its fly-past were still diminutive Heinkel 51 biplanes. By 
the autumn of 1935 the Luftwaffe had reached the target of 1,800 first-line air- 
craft set by Milch in July the previous year, but on 7 October Goring informed 
him that the uncertain political situation called for even faster rearmament, and 
Blomberg also appealed to him to increase aircraft production. 110 The industry 
currently numbered fourteen major factories, including Junkers, Arado, Mess- 
erschmitt, Dornier, Focke-Wulf and Heinkel. On the twenty-fourth Milch 
asked for 616 million Reichsmarks more to cover the expense of this acceleration 
of the programme. 111 Within two years the list of major factories had swollen to 
thirty- six. 

General Wever’s Air Staff had meanwhile prepared specifications for some 
of the world’s most advanced aircraft. At Rechlin research station in March 1936 
test pilots were already flying prototypes of the Messerschmitt 109 lighter air- 
craft, of the Me no twin-engined long-range fighter, the Ju 87 and Henschel 
123 dive-bombers and of the Do 17 and He 111 medium bombers. There was even 
an early Ju 88 bomber undergoing trials. The Dornier company had built three 
prototypes of the important Do 19 four-engined heavy bomber, and Junkers 
had built two Ju 89s — these in a year when the specification for a four-engined 
bomber was only just being issued in Britain. 112 Of all these the Heinkel nr 
seemed to be the standard bomber of the future; it could carry a ton of bombs 
and was fast by modern standards. The Air Ministry invited Dr Heinkel to 
construct a large new factory at Oranienburg outside Berlin, capable of pro- 
ducing no fewer than a hundred of these bombers a month; Heinkel accepted 
and the first turf was cut on the empty site in May 1936. One year later he 
handed over the first He 111 manufactured there. 113 

Politically, the Wehrmacht considered that it was not rearming in a vac- 
uum. In a document issued late in 1935 the Luftwaffe summed up: ‘France has 
evidently determined on war, if her extensive military preparations are any- 
thing to go by’; it was furthermore accepted that should such a conflict break 



out, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia would remain neutral only so long as this 
served their own interests. 114 Early in November Blomberg invited the three 
services to develop a working basis for joint strategic planning; after a meeting 
of the principal Luftwaffe commanders presided over by Milch on the sixteenth 
Wever signed the Luftwaffe’s part of the ‘Wehrmacht Study’, as the planning 
document was called, two days later. 115 France and Czechoslovakia were seen as 
the only potential enemies. For political reasons, the Luftwaffe was to avoid the 
role of aggressor at all costs. Without Goring’s express orders no frontier was to 
be crossed and there was to be absolutely no entry into the demilitarized Rhi- 
neland — or even overflying of it by Luftwaffe aircraft — until a deliberate vio- 
lation of German frontiers had been established by the enemy. The Luftwaffe 
assumed that the French air force would begin any French attack with a sur- 
prise air raid, ‘probably without any declaration of war’. The Luftwaffe’s pri- 
mary task would be the destruction of the French air force and its bases, fol- 
lowed by a rapid switching of most of the bomber squadrons to the east and the 
destruction of the Czech air force. Considerable importance was attached to air 
reconnaissance, but little to strategic air warfare — a number of French and 
Czech arsenals, munitions factories and wireless stations were listed by name as 
targets, but curiously reserved for ‘reprisal attacks for raids on German towns’. 

Both Goring and Milch were taken by surprise by Hitler’s sudden deci- 
sion to march into the demilitarized Rhineland in March 1936. The state secre- 
tary was away on a month’s leave when the Fiihrer first mentioned this new 
intention to Blomberg on 13 February — a result of the imminent ratification of 
a Franco-Soviet treaty. 116 No word reached Milch until the eve of the day cho- 
sen, when General Wever telephoned that he was required immediately in Ber- 
lin. 117 As he entered his aircraft at Munich airport next morning, 7 March, he 
heard loudspeakers relaying Hitler’s announcement that at that moment Ger- 
man troops were marching into the Rhineland. In all Germany, as Milch knew, 
there were only three fighter squadrons, and since the eastern frontier could 
not be left denuded only one of these could be spared for the west; this was di- 
vided between airfields at Cologne and Dusseldorf, and a dive-bomber squad- 
ron was also transferred to the Rhineland that day. The fighters carried a 
thousand rounds of ammunition each, but their machine-guns had not been 



adjusted. With this small cast the Luftwaffe laid on a great spectacle — it was like 
the Danzig Air Mail all over again, only this time the paint-pot and brush were 
used to multiply the number of aircraft in evidence, not reduce them. 118 The 
fighter squadron was flown round from one airfield to the next, changing its 
insignia between each demonstration. Freshly painted nameplates were dis- 
played outside harmless training schools, proclaiming them to be fighter or 
bomber wings. Not for the last time, the French were taken in. 

The first Luftwaffe training manual on air strategy was issued by General Wever 
in May 1936. It was remarkable proof of Wever’s and Wilberg’s farsightedness, 
for although both officers were rooted in the traditions of the army, and of 
army air support, the manual set out a clear blueprint for the Luftwaffe’s light- 
ning successes three years later in Poland and France. It became the basis of all 
staff training at the Air Staff College at Gatow. ‘Air power carries the war right 
into the heart of enemy country from the moment war breaks out,’ ran one 
paragraph. ‘It strikes at the very root of the enemy’s fighting power and of the 
people’s will to resist.’ The Luftwaffe’s duty was to fight for air supremacy; that 
achieved, it was to support the land and sea battles where necessary, or attack 
the enemy’s resources — his industrial potential, his food supplies, his vital im- 
port routes, his transport and governmental centres. But the manual expressly 
ruled out attacks on civil populations in paragraph 186: ‘Attacks on cities for the 
purpose of terrorizing the civilian population are absolutely forbidden.’ 119 

All the greater was the tragedy which overtook the young air force on 3 
June when Wever was killed piloting his own aircraft. His successor was General 
Kesselring, the tall, happy-go-lucky Luftwaffe chief of administration, who had 
played an important part in the growth of the air industry and the construc- 
tion of the ground establishments. Milch felt that his knowledge of strategy and 
air tactics was very limited, however, and Kesselring’s appointment caused 
widespread controversy. The two generals worked together for barely a year, 
with Kesselring overwhelmed by the contempt of the career officer for the 
‘managing director’ who was state secretary, and Milch magnifying every error 
committed by the newcomer to create incidents of almost diplomatic magni- 
tude. Milch marshalled the aircraft industry on his side and Kesselring was re- 



placed in 1937 by General Stumpff, a more satisfactory candidate in Milch’s 
view; Kesselring joined Goring’s camp. 

Kesselring’s appointment in June 1936 was accompanied by another, 
seemingly minor reshuffle of the ministry’s officers. The head of the technical 
department, General Wimmer, and his two chief assistants, Colonel Loeb and 
Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen (cousin of the famous air ace), were the ar- 
chitects of the Luftwaffe’s technical advance; unhappily, Goring found Wim- 
mer somewhat mulish and pedantic and decided to replace him. 120 As a succes- 
sor he selected Ernst Udet, a popular First World War fighter pilot who had 
rejoined the Luftwaffe twelve months before with the rank of colonel. Udet — 
Bohemian, boisterous and likeable — had formed an intimate friendship with 
Milch and had joined the regular company at Milch’s table at Horcher’s, the 
leather-panelled gourmet’s restaurant in Berlin. He was a virtuoso pilot, used to 
thrilling interwar crowds with his act at air displays, picking up pocket hand- 
kerchiefs with a hook fastened to the wingtip of his plane. He had taught Milch 
to fly, and on their sixth flying lesson had shouted to him that he now had 
complete faith in him and threw his control-column overboard — a wooden 
dummy he had smuggled aboard especially for the purpose. 

Udet was not at that time Goring’s friend — quite the contrary, for in 1918 
it was Udet who was elected chairman of the Richthofen Veterans’ Association, 
although Goring had been the squadron’s last commander. Udet had moreover 
challenged the authenticity of many of Goring’s ‘kills’ as a fighter pilot, hinting 
that he had cheated by claiming for himself the unclaimed enemy aircraft cred- 
ited to his squadron; eventually Udet had thrown him out of the Association 
altogether. Knowledge of this was the hold that Ernst Udet had on the minister, 
and Goring admitted this privately to Milch. 121 Milch for his part suspected 
that Udet’s appointment was Goring’s shrewd attempt to silence someone who 
had Hitler’s ear on air matters. He later wrote, ‘Hitler recognized in Udet one 
of the greatest pilots, and he was right. But he also saw him as one of our great- 
est technical experts, and here he was very mistaken.’ As an inspector of fighters 
or of dive-bombers Udet would have been in his element; but now he was put 
in charge of the Luftwaffe’s technical department, a desk job requiring concen- 
tration, hard work and vision. He was neither a beaver like Milch, nor an ad- 



ministrator like Kesselring. Easy-going and increasingly dissolute, Udet allowed 
the Luftwaffe’s technical lead to wither away, and in time he was to prove 
Goring’s own undoing. 122 

In the Spanish Civil War the Luftwaffe found its first active involvement. Gen- 
eral Lranco appealed to Hitler to help him transport his insurgent forces from 
Tetuan in North Africa to the Spanish mainland. Hitler was at Bayreuth when 
the Spanish delegation arrived in Berlin; Milch referred them to Blomberg, and 
Canaris, Blomberg’s foreign intelligence chief, introduced them to Hitler and 
Party officials at Bayreuth on 25 July 1936. Goring summoned Milch to 
Bayreuth with Stumpff next morning and reported that Hitler was in favour of 
German intervention on Branco’s behalf, without actual participation in the 
fighting. Milch flew back to Berlin for an immediate meeting of his depart- 
mental heads with the Spanish officers and Stumpff; their first action was to set 
up a special unit ( Sonderstab ) ‘W’ under Wilberg, to coordinate the airlift of 
Branco’s troops to Seville in southern Spain. 123 

The first Ju 52 transport plane left Tempelhof on the very next day for 
Spanish Morocco, transferred to a hastily registered ‘Hispano-Moroccan 
Transport Company (Tetuan-Seville)’; a score more followed, crewed mostly by 
Luftwaffe reservists. On 31 July Milch took leave of the first eighty-five volun- 
teers, who were formally discharged from the Luftwaffe and equipped with 
plain clothes; six He 51 biplane fighters accompanied them on the voyage to 
Cadiz. A week later this advance party, camouflaged as the ‘Union Travel Asso- 
ciation’, was in Seville. About 270 tons of assorted equipment and ammunition 
joined them there. 124 During August the transports ferried about ten thousand 
Moroccan troops to Spain. Milch kept Blomberg, Neurath (the Loreign Minis- 
ter), Raeder and Goring regularly briefed, for at this stage he was in charge of 
the entire German intervention. 125 The He 51 proved surprisingly inferior to 
the Russian-built aircraft opposing them, so on 29 October the decision was 
taken to send more modern equipment, backed up by bomber and fighter 
squadrons; the new Me 109 would have to be rushed to Spain as soon as possi- 
ble. When proof was found that Russian-made bombs were being used against 
Branco’s troops, Hitler on the same day approved full-scale military interven- 



tion by the Luftwaffe (as Mussolini had said to Milch in Rome two weeks before, 
‘Communism is war!’). 126 

Under the code-name ‘Riigen Winter Exercise’, the Luftwaffe embarked a 
large force of volunteers under Major-General Hugo Sperrle for Spain; a simi- 
lar force of army volunteers would be commanded by General Walter Warli- 
mont. This new force fought in Spain as the ‘Legion Condor’. On 6 November 
the first bomber squadron of KG 88 left German soil; Milch saw the unit 
proudly off at Greifswald airfield, Goring having written, ‘Milch is to stand in 
for me’ on the bomber squadron’s invitation to the ceremony. 127 Thus the 
Luftwaffe was now embroiled in war on foreign soil. Altogether the Legion 
Condor was to achieve a strength in Spain of about five thousand men, with 
two hundred assorted aircraft. In mid-November word reached the state secre- 
tary of the first Luftwaffe ‘kill’ in Spain, and at the same time of the death of 
one of his friends in action. 128 

The international reaction to these German ‘volunteers’ was immediate 
and hostile. Goring told Milch that Britain had lodged a formal protest. At a 
meeting with Milch and his departmental heads early in December he reflected 
that Germany had strictly ‘wanted peace until 1941’; now anything might hap- 
pen: ‘We are already at war, if not a shooting one.’ It seemed that Russia wanted 
war, and it was obvious that Britain was rearming very fast. His familiar demand 
was that the Luftwaffe expand still faster, ‘without regard for financial difficul- 
ties’. From the New Year all his factories were to operate on a wartime basis, 
geared to the production of aircraft, weapons and equipment rather than to 
putting the finishing touches to barracks and airfield accommodation. 129 

Once Goring had bragged to the Finance Minister, ‘You know, when I want to 
expand the Luftwaffe, I send for Milch. Then he always says, “We can’t exceed 
such-and-such a limit, as that would dilute it too much.” So I kick him up the 
arse and he multiplies the front line in a matter of weeks!’ Milch heard of this 
vulgar appraisal and contradicted Goring: ‘The only one to get his backside 
kicked is the one who offers it. And don’t expect that from me!’ 130 It is impossi- 
ble to put a firm date on the final freeze in Goring’s relations with his state sec- 
retary; the jealous career officers surrounding the minister will have done little 



to defend Milch, the ambitious executive, the civilian in uniform (and a gen- 
eral’s uniform at that). 

The cooling off was at first perceptible only in minor details, which even 
then the sensitive Erhard Milch might have been exaggerating were it not for 
the subsequent undeniable decline. Goring no longer invited him to share his 
foreign leaves or be his guest at his hunting lodge during the annual Nurem- 
berg Party rallies; Milch’s name disappeared from Goring’s Christmas list. 
When the minister himself designed a Luftwaffe brooch it seemed that every 
other ministry lady from the most humble clerk’s wife upward received one, 
but not Frau Milch. For Goring the last straw came when Hitler said in a public 
speech, ‘Two names are ineradicably linked with the birth of our Luftwaffe — 
Goring and Milch.’ The minister took to interviewing Milch’s subordinates over 
his head. (‘There is no need to tell your chief of this,’ he would assure them.) 
Thus we are no longer surprised to find that while Milch was in Berlin one day 
in November 1936, Goring was conferring with Udet at the minister’s opulent 
new forest palace, Karinhall, about far-reaching plans for the standardization of 
airframes and aero-engines. 131 The minutes of these discussions were not shown 
to Milch. Goring was wont to explain, ‘That’s the way the Fuhrer works, as 

The ministry’s telephone operators heard increasingly caustic exchanges 
between the two. More than once Milch slammed his receiver down, and when 
Goring once rang back to apologize for their having been cut off, Milch re- 
torted: ‘We weren’t cut off. I hung up on you. I don’t want my switchboard 
staff getting the impression our minister has no manners!’ It was like a marriage 
going hopelessly wrong, but neither was in the position to end it. Goring dared 
not dismiss Milch, for he was still creating the Luftwaffe, and Milch had Hitler’s 
confidence. Milch for his part was enthralled by the task and by the power he 
wielded as the force grew in his hands. But he suffered deeply under Goring’s 
humiliating actions. On 26 November he threatened to resign, and when this 
was brushed aside he stubbornly indicated that he was not the minister’s slave 
and hinted that a German officer always had one way out of an impasse. He 
motioned toward his revolver. 132 Goring reproached him that people were be- 
ginning to speak of Milch as though he were the C-in-C and minister: when the 



first bomber squadron had left for Spain, it was Milch who had taken the salute 
at Greifswald. Milch hotly reminded him of his own words on the margin of 
the invitation, ‘Milch is to stand in for me’. Goring denied having written any 
such injunction; Milch sent his elderly Central Office chief, Witzendorff, to 
bring the letter out of the files, but Witzendorff apologized and said that there 
was no such letter there. 

Not until six years later was that particular mystery resolved. Witzendorff 
retired and confessed, weeping, to Milch that he had been ordered by Kessel- 
ring to destroy the letter so as to damage the state secretary. Other officers on 
the Air Staff also admitted to Milch that they had had a hand in the intrigue. As 
the New Year, 1937, dawned, we can accept that the Seven Years’ War between 
the Air Staff and General Milch, the outsider, was only just beginning. 

The increases in the Luftwaffe’s production planning were followed with 
growing alarm by the British government. The German authorities confiden- 
tially imparted to the British authentic details, late in 1936, of their intentions. 133 
In Hitler’s view such exchanges were to be welcomed; still fired by his dream of 
a great Anglo-Saxon alliance, uniting Germany’s powerful armies, Britain’s 
command of the seas and the RAF and Luftwaffe in joint domination of the 
skies, he authorized Milch to invite senior RAF officers to study the Luftwaffe’s 
secrets. 134 Milch believed this very necessary in view of the enormous exaggera- 
tions appearing in the British press. 135 The outcome was a unique exchange of 
information between two rival air forces which only three years later were 
locked in combat in each other’s skies. The RAF sent to Berlin two air vice- 
marshals, Courtney and Evill, and two intelligence officers; Milch showed them 
every Luftwaffe establishment of importance during the next few days. They 
saw the Richthofen fighter wing, the Air Staff College and the original Heinkel 
production line on the Baltic coast. Germany’s most advanced aircraft, like the 
He 111, the Ju 86, the Ju 87 and the Do 17 bombers were demonstrated to them, 
and they were verbally informed of their performances to enable them to make 
precise comparisons. 136 Milch requested the British party not to take written 
notes, and expressed anxiety that none of the secret information should go be- 
yond the British Air Ministry, and certainly not to the Foreign Office which 



would channel it directly to Paris if it could. Courtney undertook that, when he 
reported to the Air Ministry, he would pass on these wishes. At Courtney’s re- 
quest General Milch set out the bare facts of the Luftwaffe construction pro- 
gramme initiated in 1934; it was due for completion in 1938, by which time 
Germany would have thirty bomber squadrons, six dive-bomber squadrons and 
twelve fighter squadrons — a Luftwaffe first line of about 2,340 aircraft includ- 
ing immediate reserves. He enlarged at length to the British air marshals on his 
political views as a soldier, and stressed that Germany desired nothing more 
than rapprochement with the principal western powers. The information he 
gave broadly was complete, honest and accurate. (Indeed, Kesselring de- 
nounced him to Goring for high treason, for disclosing as much as he had.)* 137 

Two weeks later Major-General Wenninger, the German air attache in 
London, was called to the Air Ministry there and given similar details on the 
RAF: ‘according to current planning’ the RAF would dispose of 1,736 aircraft in 
its first line, plus one-third more ‘immediate reserves’ without pilots, by the 
end of 1938. This force would comprise 1,022 bombers and 420 fighter aircraft, 
plus a number overseas. The British intimated that the RAF would welcome 
even closer contacts with the Luftwaffe and invited an official German delega- 
tion to visit London that autumn. 

From Douhet’s writings Milch knew that the Luftwaffe could never be big 
enough to meet every strategic demand — the multiplicity of possible targets 
was daunting. After the British officers had left Berlin he wrote for Goring a 
long confidential study, reminding his minister that by mid-1937 they would 
have a total of 36 bomber and dive-bomber squadrons, but that Germany alone 
now had over two thousand industrial plants classified as ‘vital’ for war pro- 
duction, while her ‘largest neighbour’ (France) had over ninety explosives fac- 
tories, thirty poison-gas factories and fifty aircraft production plants. Since the 
Luftwaffe would be occupied with tactical operations and with the destruction 
of the enemy air force, some time would pass before it could turn to true strate- 

* According to Milch this programme was 50 percent complete, but this did not tally with the 
figures secured by British intelligence. The Germans later admitted that the half-way mark had 
been reached in the spring of 1936 — nine months earlier. 



gic air war. The quicker the enemy air force was destroyed the better. ‘The 
Luftwaffe’s ideal is therefore to cross the frontier simultaneously with the decla- 
ration of war, or even better, to launch its attack on the enemy’s air bases in lieu 
of a declaration of war.’ 138 The lengthy study could with profit have been read 
by Goring, but Bodenschatz returned it to him with a note reading, ‘The colo- 
nel-general [Goring] has taken note of it, but asks you to send it to him again 
some time.’ The initial surprise air attack on the enemy’s air force became the 
Luftwaffe’s trademark, however, opening the campaigns in Poland, France, 
Yugoslavia and Russia; and it was imitated with equally devastating effect by 
Israel in the Six-Day War. 

Of the three Wehrmacht branches, Milch considered only the army fortunate 
in its C-in-C, von Fritsch. Raeder he classed in the same category as Goring: 
‘Stupid lecture by Raeder at Defence Ministry in presence of Ffihrer and oth- 
ers,’ he recorded at this time; Raeder had expounded the possibilities of naval 
war against the United States, based on ports in Mexico and South America. 139 
Raeder for his part could not stand Milch, and when the Reich dedicated a 
Jutland memorial in 1936 he announced that if Goring’s state secretary were 
invited to stay aboard the Fuhrer’s yacht, Grille, then he, Raeder, would not. 140 
But Milch’s loyalty toward Hitler was still inalienable. On 30 January 1937 Hitler 
presented the golden Party emblem to him at a special cabinet meeting. 141 

Goring recognized that he could not wholly dispense with Milch. He 
needed the dynamo to power the ministry, and to strengthen his own position 
with Hitler. The Reich’s strong men — Blomberg, Himmler, Hess and Goebbels 
— were frequent guests at Milch’s table, seeing in him perhaps a future Air 
Minister. 142 By the spring of 1937, however, Goring’s satraps were hinting to 
him that Milch was no longer indispensable. Udet was looking after the techni- 
cal side, assisted now by Major Hans Jeschonnek, the youthful former staff offi- 
cer to Milch who now commanded the Operational Development Wing at 
Greifswald; Kesselring had tactical matters well in hand. As ill-fortune would 
have it, Milch was stricken by appendicitis at this time. The Air Staff and 
Goring were conspicuous by their lack of sympathy for him. 143 Upon his recov- 
ery he called a departmental conference; Kesselring stayed ostentatiously 



away. 144 Milch convalesced in Italy. Upon his return Goring had no time to see 
him, so he left Berlin again for a mountaineering holiday in the Alps. In mid- 
April 1937 Milch at last had a ‘scarcely satisfactory’ debate with his minister. 
Goring broke it to him that now that his internal political duties were less ardu- 
ous he intended to take over direct control of the Luftwaffe himself. Two days 
later he departed himself for Italy. 145 

Weeks before, in Milch’s absence, he had already taken a crucial deci- 
sion. 146 He had ordered the scrapping of both the four-engined heavy bomber 
prototypes developed by Junkers and Dornier to meet the requirement issued 
by Milch and Wever four years before. The Ju 89 and the Do 19 — the latter 
with its 110-foot wingspan and 19 tons take-off weight — were generally consid- 
ered to be far ahead of their time. 

Only later did Milch learn of this arbitrary decision and how it had come 
about: Kesselring and Jeschonnek had suggested to Goring that it would be 
better to drop the heavy bomber projects in view of the pressure on scarce raw 
materials. 147 The records do indeed show that of the 4,500 tons of aluminium 
required monthly for aircraft manufacture, only about half was currently avail- 
able. 148 Goring had inquired, ‘How many twin-engined aircraft can we make 
for each four-engined one?’ The reply was ‘about two and a half.’ ‘The Fiihrer,’ 
concluded Goring, ‘does not ask me how big my bombers are, but how many 
there are.’ 149 

The Luftwaffe reorganization decided on by Goring at the same time had 
equally disastrous effects, in Milch’s eyes. Goring revealed it to him in broad 
outline during May 1937. He intended to carve the whole ministry into two 
establishments — a ministerial side under Milch, and a command side as a sepa- 
rate entity under the Chief of Air Staff, who would be equal in status to Milch 
and responsible only to Goring; Milch would ‘inspect’ the Luftwaffe, but noth- 
ing else. ‘Only half a solution,’ was how Milch described it. 150 He doubted 
whether Goring — in whom Hitler had some months before vested the enor- 
mous Four-Year Plan undertaking — would really have the time, energy or in- 
clination to devote himself to linking these two entities. On the last day of May 
he was shown Goring’s final draft for the reorganization: ‘Now that the con- 
struction of the Luftwaffe has reached its provisional conclusion,’ Goring wrote, 



‘I intend to apply to the Luftwaffe’s structure a form relevant to command 
problems in war as well as peace.’ In future he would exercise ‘sole and immedi- 
ate’ command over the Luftwaffe. Milch would no longer act as his permanent 
deputy. The pious hope was expressed that although Milch and the Chief of 
Air Staff would now be equal in status they would keep each other informed on 
all basic matters. This order Goring signed in person. 151 

A few weeks later Goring removed both the Personnel Department (un- 
der von Greim) and the Technical Department (under Udet) from Milch’s 
control and elevated them to equal status with Milch and the Chief of Air Staff. 
He promised to invite Milch to join all their discussions, but broke this promise 
within a few days as both Udet and Greim were summoned to confer with him 
without Milch learning of it until afterward. 152 In this period Milch saw all his 
worst fears confirmed. Goring took only sporadic interest, discussed problems 
with his departmental heads alone as before, asked nobody’s advice, tolerated no 
contradiction, cursed people in their absence and extolled his own virtues. ‘And 
all the time,’ described Milch, ‘he scribbled little notes, usually in a different 
book each day, without anybody being able to see the point of it all, since he 
invariably forgot or distorted what had been under discussion.’ 153 

Reviewing the causes for the Luftwaffe’s eventual defeat, Milch was to list 
this 1937 reorganization first and foremost. One minor episode serves to illus- 
trate the Byzantine art of Hitler’s paladin: several times Goring warned Milch to 
watch out for General StumpfP s intrigues; Milch at once mentioned Goring’s 
warning to the Chief of Air Staff himself, and Stumpff replied in astonishment, 
‘But that is precisely what the colonel-general said to me about you only a few 
days ago!’ At the beginning of the war that was to follow Milch cornered his C- 
in-C in a quiet moment and rebuked him. ‘The ancient Romans had a motto: 
divide et impera, divide and rule. But the Romans applied this only to their 
enemies, while you seek to do so against your friends. I cannot anticipate much 
success for you.’ Goring made no comment. 





July 1937-September 1939 

in his 1937 directive on combined Wehrmacht planning for the contingency 
of war, the Defence Minister, von Blomberg, stressed that it was of continued 
urgency to secure Britain’s friendship. Should France decide to attack Ger- 
many, or should Germany first decide to attack Czechoslovakia — France’s ally 
in the east — Britain’s neutrality would be of paramount importance to Hitler; 
because if Britain sided with his enemies she would undoubtedly try to win the 
Low Countries as bases for her air force to attack Germany’s industrial centres 
in the west. 1 

These fears led to further exchanges between Britain and Germany. Ernst 
Udet was sent to participate in the British air display at Hendon; the chief de- 
signer of the Bristol Aircraft Company was shown round German aircraft facto- 
ries and opened negotiations for the sale of Bristol aero-engines to Germany. 2 
On 1 July 1937 Lord Trenchard, the founder of the RAF, visited Berlin. He 
asked whether Germany would ever use poison gas; Milch gave him a solemn 
undertaking that Germany would not initiate such warfare. 3 

At the end of July Hitler allowed the new Luftwaffe to flex its muscles at 
the fourth international air meeting at Zurich. Milch captained the German 
team. Udet flew a special Me 109 fighter, but the principal event was the bomber 
competition: the Dornier 17, the latest German bomber, proved to be faster 
than any foreign fighter taking part, an unwelcome surprise to many countries 



present. The RAF did not compete, but Milch willingly allowed the British ex- 
perts to inspect the new German equipment, particularly the advanced Daim- 
ler-Benz 600 and 601 engines. 4 Back in Berlin he tried to report all this to 
Goring; the minister received Udet but did not grant Milch an audience until 
September, when he quietened the mutinous state secretary by reminding him 
he was the one he had nominated as his successor, in his will. 5 

The increase in the Luftwaffe proceeded, but not as planned. In Septem- 
ber Goring approved Milch’s estimate of three thousand million Reichsmarks 
for this programme in 1938; but money alone was not enough, as raw material 
shortages had become increasingly apparent, particularly in the supply of iron 
and steel as the services competed for them. 6 Early in June Hitler had asked 
Blomberg to report on the effect of these shortages on rearmament, and late in 
August the Air Ministry had to warn that because of them there would have to 
be ‘a significant reduction in the Luftwaffe’s rate of expansion’. 7 The complete 
equipment of the squadrons would not be achieved until April 1939, a delay of 
six months on their original target. By the end of October 1937 even this pre- 
diction was recognized as over-optimistic, and Milch advised Goring that the 
iron and steel deficit was such as to set back some elements of the next five years’ 
production programme by as much as another five years. 8 

Even as it was, the Luftwaffe was already a formidable weapon, as it 
showed in full-scale Wehrmacht manoeuvres late in September 1937. It contrib- 
uted over 62,000 uniformed Luftwaffe officers and men and 22,500 civilian offi- 
cials and workers; and it fielded 1,337 aircraft, 639 flak guns, 160 searchlights and 
9,720 motorized vehicles. 9 The manoeuvres began with a simulated surprise air 
attack on Berlin early on the twentieth. Large-scale army movements followed 
across open countryside between Berlin and the Baltic, witnessed by Hitler with 
Mussolini as his guest. In the Luftwaffe’s new communications aircraft, the di- 
minutive Fieseler ‘Storch’, Milch visited the battlefields, alighting without diffi- 
culty in pocket-handkerchief areas among the astounded troops. He had issued 
the ‘Storch’ specification in 1933, strongly opposed by Richthofen, who saw no 
future for such a plane. It was to perform incredible feats during the war, in- 
cluding the rescue of the bulky Fascist leader Benito Mussolini from a mountain 
prison in 1943. 10 From the slowest to the fastest aircraft, the Luftwaffe now 



dominated the skies of Europe — or so it seemed. 

Erhard Milch’s reputation climbed rapidly in foreign diplomatic circles. He 
paid official visits to Germany’s neighbours, collecting honours (‘all good for 
decking out the coffin lid,’ he used to wisecrack) and distributing goodwill. 11 
The climax came in October 1937, with visits to Paris and London. 

Early in October he flew to Paris with Udet and his staff, together with the 
French ambassador Fran^ois-Poncet. He deliberately chose the Luftwaffe’s most 
modern aircraft, the Heinkel 111, landing on the military side of Le Bourget 
airport. As he stepped to the ground a French military band struck up the 
German national anthem and a considerable guard of honour was drawn up for 
his inspection. General Vuillemin, the French C-in-C, impressed upon him that 
this was the first time a French guard of honour had presented arms to a Ger- 
man officer since the late 1860s. That the invitation to Paris had an inner politi- 
cal objective was further underlined at a private meeting with the French For- 
eign, Air and Navy Ministers, who asked Milch to stress to the Fiihrer their wish 
to establish ‘closer relations’ with Germany. The German ambassador saw 
Milch’s quizzical look and hurriedly explained that Hitler no longer received 
him in person. ‘But when you, as a soldier, go to see him, he listens to what you 
say. It’s the soldiers who count now in Germany.’ As Milch departed from Paris 
the elderly French commander of the Paris air zone delivered a tearful speech, 
describing this as the most moving moment of his life — that ‘after a thousand 
years of war’ Germany and France had finally buried the hatchet. 12 Next day, 
on 10 October, Hitler received Milch and Udet for two hours on the Ober- 
salzberg. Milch outlined the French desires for some kind of alliance, but Hitler 
showed in one sentence what his real sentiments were: ‘I am going to teach them 
a lesson they will never forget.’ 13 

A few days later General Milch headed an influential Luftwaffe delegation 
to London. Here the reception was perceptibly cooler than in Paris. Although 
the speeches delivered by Lord Swinton — the Air Minister — and the Chief of 
Air Staff were warm enough and the RAF band even played Nazi marches like 
Badenweiler and Comrades of old, and even a Hitler Youth ballad (In front of us 
flutters the German Flag), the guided tours of RAF bomber and fighter squad- 



rons were perhaps coincidentally intimidating in effect. For a whole day he was 
shown over the unique ‘shadow factories’ in the Midlands — producing motor- 
cars and engines in peacetime, but ready for instant conversion to aircraft pro- 
duction in war. He also met the air chief marshals who were to direct the fight 
against Germany and the Luftwaffe in two years’ time, Ludlow-Hewitt and 
Dowding. No doubt he also shook hands with many another, incognito, whose 
existence he was later to regret . 14 He livened up one formal luncheon held in 
his honour at Fighter Command headquarters when in his own blunt way he 
appealed unprompted to his hosts, ‘How are you getting on with your experi- 
ments in the radio detection of aircraft approaching your shores?’ Glasses clat- 
tered to the floor and a very red-faced air vice-marshal tried to laugh the ques- 
tion off. But Milch persisted that there was no need to be coy. ‘We have known 
for some time that you are developing a radar system,’ he said. ‘So are we, and 
we think we are a jump ahead of you.’ Word of this must have reached Hitler, 
for years later he was to complain that Milch had betrayed the secret of radar to 
the British . 15 

Back in London Lord Swinton introduced him to another formidable 
future opponent, over cocktails in a secluded ring of leather armchairs in a 
club. Milch found himself cornered between Mr Winston Churchill and his 
supporters Duff Cooper, Lord Camrose and Leo Amery, while Trenchard and 
Swinton urged him into battle. In prison later, Milch wrote of Churchill as an 
enigma. Of the young Churchill portrayed in his own autobiography My Early 
Life Milch summarized that as a child he had evidently played only with tin 
soldiers, that as a youth he had hastened to become an officer, sought out every 
scene of hostilities and bloodshed from Cuba, India and Egypt to South Africa, 
and that everywhere he had obviously found great pleasure in the adventure of 
fighting and killing: ‘I know of no such enthusiasts amongst my own acquain- 
tances,’ he wrote in his private Nuremberg diary 16 ; and when one considers 
who Milch’s acquaintances had been by that time, the sting of the judgement is 

After the chatter had subsided Mr Churchill, who had been contemplat- 
ing the German through their combined wreaths of cigar smoke for some time, 
began an encirclement action. ‘What do you think of gliding as a sport?’ he 



asked, and ‘Do you think I could pick it up, if I tried to, at my age?’ Milch 
courteously offered him the opportunity in Germany (where the Luftwaffe 
maintained extensive gliding schools, for reasons which were to become appar- 
ent in 1940). So Churchill said, ‘If you value gliding so highly, could you not 
with profit dispense with powered flight entirely? That would eminently solve 
all our difficulties!’ This brought delighted chuckles from his party, but Milch 
responded: ‘I am convinced that our Fiihrer would accept such a proposal.’ 
Churchill removed his cigar and said, ‘Oh, really?’ Milch explained that there 
was one small condition — ‘That the Royal Navy revert to those beautiful old 
sailing ships!’ Lord Swinton loudly proclaimed, ‘One-nil to Milch!’ The party 
broke up in the small hours of the morning. 17 

The events in London interested everybody of importance in Berlin ex- 
cept Goring. Milch reported fully both to the Foreign Minister, von Neurath, 
and to Blomberg upon his return, but the Defence Minister was already grow- 
ing aware of his inability to moderate Hitler’s foreign aims, and Milch found 
him more despondent than ever before. He recorded Blomberg’s pessimism: 
‘He is gravely worried.’ 18 Hitler received him for two hours the next afternoon, 
2 November, and listened intently to the description of the British shadow fac- 
tories and the magnificent officer material seen at the RAF College at Cranwell. 
The state secretary particularly warned against writing off Churchill just be- 
cause of the Dardanelles fiasco in the First World War; Churchill was undoubt- 
edly the submerged iceberg on which Germany might founder. 

His faction seemed bent on war, the grounds for which could not yet be 
foreseen and perhaps did not yet exist. In reply Hitler outlined his grand strat- 
egy and stressed that he was interested only in collaboration with Great Britain 
and the Empire. 19 Of course, we have only Milch’s word for this. His diary re- 
cords simply, ‘3.15 to 5.15 p.m. with Udet to see Fiihrer about journey to Eng- 
land! (Grand strategy.)’ 20 The words ‘grand strategy’ (‘ grosse Politik") also ap- 
pear on other occasions in Milch’s diary, but always with a somewhat sinister 

Of the Armistice concluded at the end of the First World War on 11 November 
1918 the young Captain Milch had written on the day it was signed: ‘The terms 



are the best possible cause for a future war.’ But it was less the terms of the Ar- 
mistice than the conditions and frontiers created by Versailles that incited Hit- 
ler. After Austria’s Anschluss to Germany in March 1938 Czechoslovakia was 
surrounded on three sides by his armies; the Austrian air force was modernized 
and incorporated as a body into the Luftwaffe, keeping General Alexander 
Lohr, at Milch’s suggestion, as their commanding-general; Austrian factories 
began the manufacture of German aircraft types; and the Luftwaffe gained im- 
portant strategic bases from which to menace Czechoslovakia. 

Behind all German military planning lurked the traditional ideological 
fear of Russia, the unknown quantity in all their calculations. In 1935 word had 
reached Berlin of negotiations between France and Czechoslovakia to add Russia 
to their alliance. 21 There were indications that Russian air force officers were 
already stationed in Czechoslovakia, and that twenty- five large airfields were 
under construction there — far beyond the needs of such a small territory. The 
fear that these might be used by Russia to launch a surprise attack on Germany 
resulted that spring in the very first warlike contingency plans drawn up by the 
Luftwaffe. 22 Milch represented the Luftwaffe at the Wehrmacht consultation. 
Von Fritsch described the Russian-French-Czech alliance as acutely dangerous 
for Germany. On 2 May Blomberg personally handed the C-in-Cs a secret di- 
rective to prepare an unidentified operation codenamed Schulung (‘Train- 
ing’). 23 Milch’s notes leave no doubt that they were being asked to prepare a 
blueprint for a surprise attack on Czechoslovakia, combined with a defensive 
campaign in the west should France intervene. By 15 May the Luftwaffe study 
was complete and on the following day Milch reported, ‘Training exercise com- 
pleted’, to Blomberg’s chief of staff. 24 The Wehrmacht’s Czech study was up- 
dated periodically until the issue was finally resolved in 1938. As recently as 
January 1938 Milch presided over a discussion on the operation, now code- 
named Fall Grtin . 25 

Hitler’s decision to destroy Czechoslovakia left no mark on General 
Milch’s conscience. On 21 May 1938, as he was attending a large conference with 
Goring on the very relevant matter of strengthening Germany’s eastern and 
western fortifications, the first news of alleged Czech outrages against German 
nationals in the Sudeten territories bordering on Germany reached him. 26 On 



the twenty-eighth Hitler announced to his C-in-Cs his intention of dealing 
with this troublesome neighbour, and Goring forwarded the Fiihrer’s orders to 
Milch and the other Luftwaffe commanders next day. 27 The deadline for the 
attack was r October. It was of great concern to Hitler that French intervention 
be resisted while he was rapidly destroying Czechoslovakia, and this he pro- 
posed to achieve by buttress and by bluff. On r June Milch decreed the forma- 
tion of an Air Defence Zone ‘West’ under General Kitzinger — a secondary line 
of fortifications and associated flak positions along the western frontiers. 28 Trav- 
elling by Goring’s magnificent special train, Milch and a large party of Luft- 
waffe generals inspected the fortifications constructed so far by the army, and 
back in Berlin again he busied himself with the minutiae of air warfare against 
Czechoslovakia. Of particular interest is the evidence that he discussed with Dr 
Plendl the use of radio beams for the blind bombing of Czech targets. 29 

During June r938 the air industry factories were converted to ten-hour 
shift working. 30 Goring, a field marshal now that Defence Minister Blomberg 
had been deposed, called his major industrialists to Karinhall on 8 July and 
warned them that war with Czechoslovakia was imminent; he concealed his 
knowledge of Hitler’s initiative, but portrayed their neighbour as the one seek- 
ing to provoke a general European war. ‘You may know,’ he declared, ‘that at 
the present moment it is by no means dependent only on Germany whether or 
not the peace can be kept. The sword of Damocles threatening this peace is 
Czechoslovakia.’ On the other hand, he promised the industrialists, there was 
something in a war for everybody: ‘If we win the fight, then Germany will be 
the greatest power on earth; the world’s markets will belong to Germany, and 
the time will come for abundant prosperity in Germany. But we must venture 
something for this; we have to make the investment.’ 31 

Three days later the First Air Group circulated a top secret study on Fall 
Griin as a basis for the operations of the four hundred fighters and six hundred 
bombers (plus two hundred dive-bombers and ground-attack aircraft) being 
concentrated for the attack on Czechoslovakia in October. The First Air Group 
would attack from bases in central and eastern Germany, while the somewhat 
smaller Third Air Group would attack from Bavaria and Austria. 32 About 250 
Junkers 52 transport aircraft would discharge the paratroops of Goring’s Sev- 



enth Airborne Division over vital Czech strong-points. At Jiiterbog artillery 
range outside Berlin full-scale concrete mock-ups of the Czech fortifications 
had been erected; on 15 August Milch watched with Hitler as heavy artillery and 
88-millimetre flak pieces pounded these targets to demonstrate to von Brau- 
chitsch, Fritsch’s successor as army C-in-C, and his worried generals that the 
fortifications were not impregnable. From 2.45 p.m. that day Hitler opened his 
mind to the generals about the future and the superiority of the German mili- 
tary position. It was on bluff that he placed most reliance. At one stage he de- 
scribed it as a war on Czechoslovakia’s nerves: ‘Imagine how it must feel to 
watch your neighbour sharpening up his knife for three months!’* After ninety 
minutes Milch noted uncritically in his private diary, ‘Speech by Fiihrer. In- 
sight into his thoughts. His mind is made up Z/’ 33 

It was clear that a German attack on Czechoslovakia might result in a dec- 
laration of war by France, followed almost at once by Russia and Britain, the 
latter with the clandestine support of America. All these risks Hitler was pre- 
pared to take. The Luftwaffe obediently developed a plan of operations, which 
they aptly code-named ‘ Fall Grtin, Enlarged’, in which they assumed that the 
RAF would impinge on neutral Belgian and Dutch air space to strike at the 
Ruhr, while Russia would be restricted by Poland’s more genuine neutrality to 
air attacks on East Prussia and Berlin. 34 Milch had been aware since late April 
that Anglo-French staff talks had been resumed at the instance of the new 
French premier, Daladier, and that a French military mission headed by Gen- 
eral Vuillemin had visited London at the end of May. But for the time being 
neither the British nor French bomber forces was taken seriously: on r October 
the former would probably consist of only 640 bombers, all but 120 of them 
obsolete, and the RAF were understood to have 859 bombers, all but 350 being 
obsolete. In May 1938 Milch had learned that a British mission had been sent to 
America to purchase aircraft and organize the expansion of the Canadian air- 
craft industry; the Air Staff s August planning document put British produc- 
tion at 200 of all types per month, and North American production at 250. 

* The only surviving contemporary note on Hitler’s secret speech that day is in the diary of 
Captain Wolf Eberhard, Keitel’s adjutant, in the author’s possession. 



General Milch initialled the first page of the document, and there is no indica- 
tion that he expressed pessimism in any form as to the outcome of such an en- 
larged conflict. 35 

Boundless optimism and a degree of bluff were his forte for the next six 
years — confounding his critics and enraging the despondent. When Hitler 
held a banquet on 24 August in honour of Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian 
Regent, the Army General Curt Liebmann buttonholed Milch afterward in the 
smoking-room and poured out his woes about the inadequacy of the West 
Wall. Milch refused to be infected by his mood. Liebmann angrily accused him, 
‘You may well be a brilliant airman, General, but about army tactics you obvi- 
ously haven’t got a glimmer!’ Milch spoke to Goring, and Goring arranged to 
have Liebmann (‘another of those grousing generals’) removed from his com- 
mand. 36 

The chance for grand bluff came in August r938, when General Vuillemin ar- 
rived in Germany for a five-day tour of Luftwaffe installations. Forewarned 
about Vuillemin’s liaisons with the British, Milch staged a spectacular display, 
conducting him and his mission round the Messerschmitt, Junkers and Heinkel 
factories and several operational units. Every fighter aircraft in Germany was 
flown to one airfield in southern Germany, where Vuillemin’s plane was sched- 
uled to make a casual stop; at Augsburg he was shown Messerschmitt’s latest 
fighter, the Me ro9E, and an Me no twin-engined long-range fighter firing 
cannon into the butts. At the new Heinkel aircraft factory at Oranienburg — 
not even shown to the British the year before — an He 111 bomber demonstrated 
its really astounding manoeuvrability, even on one engine, and the French gen- 
eral was allowed to glimpse scores of brand-new bombers in the despatch han- 
gar. He was shown the modern air-raid damage-control centre, and found eve- 
rything ready, down to a dozen sharpened pencils. He expostulated, fe suis 
ecrase Z’ 37 

But the piece de resistance was to come. Udet lured him up in a Fieseler 
‘Storch’, to show him Oranienburg from the air; on Milch’s instructions a 
Heinkel roo fighter — in which Udet had just smashed the world speed record 
— flew at full throttle over the 8o-mph Storch just as it was landing. Vuillemin 



and the air attache went momentarily white. On the airfield tarmac Milch 
blandly asked Udet how the He roo’s mass production was coming along, and 
the latter replied with poker face, ‘The second production line is just starting 
up, and the third in two weeks’ time.’ In fact only a handful of He 100s was ever 
manufactured. Udet waved aside Dr Heinkel’s amazement at the strange con- 
versation, ‘You have to blow your own trumpet sometimes!’ In the factory 
gymnasium Milch challenged the French air attache to a race up the ropes. Af- 
ter the French colonel had manfully hauled himself up with his arms alone, 
Milch scrambled up in half the time using his legs as well and proclaimed him- 
self the winner. 38 General Vuillemin privately notified his government that the 
French air force would not last a week against what he had seen in Germany. 39 

The RAF was another proposition. 

If Goring had always hoped there would be no war with Britain this had 
not prevented Stumpff in February 1938 from commissioning General Felmy, 
the north-western tactical commander (Second Air Group) to investigate what 
war with Britain would mean. 40 After the Anschluss the Anglo-German ex- 
change of information dried up. When the British Chief of Air Staff asked in 
April for further information the German air attache admonished him, as he 
reported to Milch, ‘If we are to hand over secret data to you, then we expect to 
receive in exchange something that we have not already read for ourselves in 
the British press and other journals.’ 41 By August air war with Britain had ad- 
vanced from ‘possibility’ to ‘probability’. It was only now that Goring recog- 
nized that he had no suitable aircraft for such a war; at Karinhall on the twenty- 
third he instructed Felmy to assemble information on targets in Britain and 
suitable tactics for attack. Since Felmy had only two bomber wings, he was to 
prepare to accommodate three or four more bombers as soon as Czechoslovakia 
had been crushed. Until then, with its two existing wings the group could do 
little more than support ground operations in the west and provide for air 
raids on London and Paris on a reprisal basis should the need arise. Other Brit- 
ish targets particularly mentioned were the London docks, the capital’s arma- 
ment factories, the Channel ports and airfields in eastern England. Should the 
bomber forces prove adequate, an extensive campaign against Britain’s seaborne 



food supplies should begin. 42 

Adequate was the key word. Felmy, appointed on 17 September to head a 
Sonderstab (Special Unit) England, reported on the twenty-second that the 
Luftwaffe was incapable of effectively attacking Britain. 43 ‘With the means avail- 
able,’ he wrote, ‘we cannot expect to achieve anything more than a disruptive 
effect. Whether this will lead to an erosion of the British will to fight is some- 
thing that depends on imponderable and certainly unpredictable factors ... A 
war of annihilation against Britain appears out of the question with the means at 
hand.’ Yet war with Britain was a ‘probability’ now: on 21 September Milch 
toured the loading airfields, haranguing the paratroops; on the twenty-second 
he attended a war conference with the Air Staff; on the twenty-third Hitler 
issued his ultimatum to Prague, to provide the pretext for his attack a week 
later. 44 This was no time for Goring to learn that the Luftwaffe had been sup- 
plied with inadequate aircraft. 

As Felmy warned, unless forward airfields could be established in Belgium 
and Holland there was no German aircraft that could operate effectively against 
Britain. The Luftwaffe’s existing bombers could not penetrate farther than 430 
miles with a half-ton bomb load. The four-engined bombers ordered by Milch 
and Wever had been scrapped in 1937. Recognizing that there was a need for 
them, Udet had decided in mid-1938 to order a different four-engined aircraft, 
the He 177, that would be capable of dive-bombing — a requirement that would 
involve coupling the engines in pairs to avoid weakening the wing structures. 45 
Clearly the He 177 could not fly for at least a year, let alone enter mass produc- 
tion. It was in this situation that Goring was persuaded by Junkers’s general 
manager, Koppenberg, to order the mass production of an as yet untested air- 
craft, the Junkers 88 dive-bomber, with the highest priority. 46 

Designed by Junkers to meet a 1935 requirement by Wever for a conven- 
tional high-speed bomber, the straight Ju 88 had first flown in 1936. Powered 
by two Jumo 211 engines, it promised to carry over two tons of bombs, fly nearly 
two thousand miles and reach speeds faster than 300 mph. In December 1936, 
however, Udet had stated a fatal further requirement — that the Ju 88 should 
be capable of dive-bombing, in view of Germany’s disheartening experiences 
with conventional bombing in Spain. Junkers redesigned the aircraft and the 



new prototype first flew on 1 June 1938. 47 Production began at the Dessau par- 
ent factory early in September. Goring was persuaded that this was the aircraft 
he needed. He would hear no evil of the Ju 88, despite a warning from the in- 
dependent air industrialists that Junkers, as a State-owned company, might well 
be pulling the wool over his eyes about the aircraft’s performance. 48 Late in 
September Goring proposed to Milch, Udet and Koppenberg that they should 
nominate the Ju 88 the Luftwaffe’s standard bomber of the future, manufac- 
turing 250 a month in half a dozen different factories. Udet was in favour, as 
was Jeschonnek, but Milch felt uneasy — not, as he stressed later in the war, out 
of personal antipathy toward Junkers 49 but because the dive-bomber’s perform- 
ance would suffer severely from the heavy air brakes and structural strength- 
ening; he questioned whether it would be any improvement on the He 111 now 
being manufactured in large numbers. 50 

He was overruled. Years later Goring tacitly acknowledged that Milch’s 
prognosis was correct. ‘I recall the marvellous circles they drew on their charts 
for me,’ he said in 1943, ‘showing the radii — how this aircraft could cruise up 
and down the west coast of Ireland attacking the enemy shipping lanes. But we 
still have not got any such aircraft!’ 51 All too trustingly the field marshal took 
the fateful step and appointed Koppenberg overlord for the manufacture of Ju 
88 bombers, charged with dramatic powers to issue orders and take over the 
production of the participating companies — ‘even those outside the Junkers 
group’. 52 The field marshal sent this unique document to Koppenberg on 30 
September, and enjoined him: ‘Now let the signal be given, and create for me in 
the shortest possible time a mighty armada of Ju 88 bombers!’ The first pro- 
duction model emerged from the assembly line early in January 1939; but in the 
months of tests that followed, considerable design faults in the dive-bomber 
version came to light. 

By the time he signed the letter Goring was at Munich for Hitler’s talks 
with the British, Italian and French leaders, and a breathing space had been 
gained. Milch had also been ordered to fly there — perhaps Hitler had intended 
to amass even more dramatis personce than he had for his confrontation with 
the unfortunate Austrian chancellor Schuschnigg in February. (On that occa- 
sion he asked both Sperrle and Reichenau to be present, ‘my two most brutal- 



looking generals’, as he confessed with a laugh to Milch 53 ). A month after Mu- 
nich Hitler summoned his military commanders to Berchtesgaden and re- 
warded them as though it had been a military victory — promoting Udet to 
Lieutenant-General and Milch to Colonel-General (four-star rank). Field 
Marshal Goring warned Milch that he need expect no further promotion from 
now on. 54 

The spirit of Munich did not last long. War with Britain had been postponed 
but not averted. In mid-October 1938 Hitler ordered Goring to ‘execute a gi- 
gantic production programme, against which previous efforts would pale into 
insignificance’; in particular the Luftwaffe was to be ‘expanded fivefold’ forth- 
with. 55 On the fifteenth Goring and Milch conferred on the related problem of 
increasing the Luftwaffe’s training capacity and on plans for a future air war 
with Britain, and on the twenty-sixth there was a further large conference at 
Karinhall on the Luftwaffe’s requirements for air warfare against Britain and 
her shipping.* Here Jeschonnek, StumpfP s deputy, persuaded Goring to 
authorize the manufacture of ‘as many He 177s as possible, and at least four 
wings’ — indicating an establishment of a formidable force of five hundred of 
these four-engined long-range bombers — by the autumn of 1942, the comple- 
tion date for the new ‘concentrated aircraft production programme’ under 
consideration. 56 Clearly it was hoped to postpone war with Britain until then. 

The new programme did not escape controversy. Udet’s department op- 
posed it because the mere fuelling of over a hundred wings of aircraft — alto- 
gether about nineteen thousand aircraft — would require Germany to import 
about eighty-five percent of the world’s current output of aviation spirit. 57 The 
chief of the organization branch, Colonel Josef Kammhuber, drafted a more 
moderate programme and Stumpff suggested that they should adopt this as an 
interim target. Milch apparently supported him and proposed in conference 
that they put it up to Goring, but to this Colonel Jeschonnek objected: ‘In my 

* German naval archives contain (in file PG/33046) an important exposition by Jeschonnek of 
the Luftwaffe’s plans for the next two years, at an inter-service conference on 24 November 1938. 
The ‘common enemy’ of both navy and Luftwaffe was now recognized to be Britain. 



view it is our duty not to betray the Fiihrer’s ideals like this!’ So Milch took 
Jeschonnek to Goring instead. When they returned he announced, ‘Gentle- 
men, the field marshal has decided that the Fuhrer’s programme is capable of 
execution.’ 58 That settled the matter. Milch agreed the final programme with 
the Air Staff at the end of November r938. Its weakness, as we can see in retro- 
spect, was that it relied heavily on as yet completely unproven aircraft. Of the 
31,300 aircraft to be manufactured under the programme by April 1942, 7,700 
were Ju 88s and He 177s, the troubles of which will be related at length in later 
chapters. Suffice it to say that the Ju 88 was not satisfactory until 1943, and the 
He 177 had not even entered squadron service by the end of 1942. 59 In another 
respect an opportunity was also missed: by 1942 Udet planned to produce about 
one hundred fighter aircraft per month; this target compares strikingly with 
the peak output of 3,500 fighters per month achieved by Milch in 1944. 

The stars of both Udet and Jeschonnek were firmly in the ascendant. On 1 
February 1939 Goring founded a formidable new bureaucratic structure, the 
Office of Air Armament, whose director ( General-Luftzeugmeister or GL) — 
incredibly to all who knew him — was to be Ernst Udet. 60 He was already head 
of the Technical Department, and this he had reorganized from its simple hori- 
zontal structure (research, development, procurement and budget) into a 
hopelessly complex vertical structure (airframes, aero-engines, etc.)', but with 
this new post of GL came five research establishments like Rechlin and 
Peenemiinde and a host of other offices. Udet would now control directly 
twenty-six subordinate offices. Even Milch, who positively relished desk work, 
had never tried to control more than four. Goring exercised no supervision, 
either: when inevitably the whole fragile structure crashed in 1941, the legal 
officers appointed to investigate established that with Goring, Udet talked only 
of old times. 61 

The final blow to Milch’s active authority was delivered by Goring on the 
same date, 1 February r939: he replaced Stumpff as Chief of Air Staff with Colo- 
nel Jeschonnek. Jeschonnek, son of a schoolmaster from Allenstein, was seven 
years younger than the state secretary, but a recognized prodigy ever since 
childhood. An army lieutenant by the time he was fifteen, he had served in the 
same fighter squadron in the First World War as Milch, and had subsequently 



been associated with the work of the secret air force in Russia. For the first years 
of Milch’s office Jeschonnek had been his principal staff officer, and General 
Wever had predicted that he would succeed him as Chief of Air Staff. As re- 
cently as the autumn of 1938 Jeschonnek had reminded Milch of this and asked 
when he might expect to replace Stumpff; Milch had sent him away with a flea 
in his ear, for out of their earlier father-and-son friendship had blossomed an 
ugly mutual contempt. The real reasons are obscure, but Milch himself has 
mentioned two. The first was an odd incident in 1934 when his car was flagged 
down by an SA officer who asked him if he would transport an injured storm- 
trooper to hospital after a motor accident; Milch had taken one look at the 
trooper’s severe skull injuries and instructed that nobody move him until 
proper medical aid arrived. Jeschonnek denounced Milch to Goring for ‘re- 
fusing to assist’, and declined to recant even when all the authorities, including 
the SA officer concerned, bore Milch’s version out. The second affair, irrevoca- 
bly clouding their relations, was about two years later. Jeschonnek, now com- 
manding the Operational Development Wing at Greifswald, was accused of 
causing the deaths of two crews by ordering that in practice low-level attacks on 
shipping their planes’ airscrews had to touch the tops of the waves. Milch flew 
to Greifswald and advised the youthful wing commander that he would let him 
off the court martial he deserved and delivered a verbal reprimand, to save his 
career. Jeschonnek resented even the reprimand. Milch later wrote of him as ‘a 
plucky, intelligent officer but narrow-minded and headstrong, and contemp- 
tuous of other walks of life’. 62 Their feud became notorious throughout the 
Luftwaffe and was ended only by Jeschonnek’s untimely death in 1943. 63 

In mid-February 1939 Milch departed for his annual skiing holiday in the Aus- 
trian Alps. He had despatched to Goring the final plans for financing the large 
new aircraft programme and the necessary factory expansion, and motored 
down to Austria in his BMW. It was several weeks before the inevitable telegram 
arrived, at 1 a.m. on 12 March: his principal staff officer was hastening to a 
nearby town with an urgent memorized message for him. Milch met him a few 
hours later. The message was: ‘The Czechoslovakian state is breaking up. It may 
become necessary for the Wehrmacht to intervene within the next few days. 



The Fiihrer has requested your immediate return to Berlin.’ Milch telephoned 
Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant that he was on his way and arrived in Munich early 
on the thirteenth. 64 

Not only he had been caught unawares. Goring was still on leave at San 
Remo, and some high army officers were equally distant from Berlin. 65 In Mu- 
nich Milch learned from Jeschonnek and General Sperrle that Prague had dis- 
missed the autonomous Slovak separatist government and was planning to en- 
ter Slovakia. Hitler therefore intended to act now to ‘destroy’ Czechoslovakia. 
The role of the Luftwaffe was obvious. 66 The warlike preparations were contin- 
ued all day in Berlin, with Milch presiding over further conferences with 
Jeschonnek and Stumpff. This time there was a marked lack of enthusiasm from 
the public, which was usually so proud of its armed forces. During the after- 
noon Milch collected Goring from the station and in the evening the Czech 
President arrived from Prague. In the face of the Luftwaffe’s very real prepara- 
tions to destroy the city, which Goring earnestly described to him, President 
Hacha capitulated and agreed to the entry of German troops into his country 
next morning. Milch toured the airborne division and fighter squadrons, and 
the flak batteries hurriedly stationed within Berlin, in his capacity as ‘Inspector- 
General’ 67 ; but the Seventh Airborne Division was grounded by bad weather, so 
the Luftwaffe took little active part in the occupation. By its very existence it 
had done enough. 

So once more a newly occupied European capital vibrated to a thousand 
German aircraft engines, as the Luftwaffe paraded over Prague on r 7 March. In 
a hotel offWenceslas Square the Czech Chief of Air Staff formally surrendered 
his air force and handed the document to Milch. 68 Udet and his experts toured 
the newly acquired factories and airfields and were astonished at the quantity 
and quality of the aircraft and equipment on hand. 69 All of it was absorbed by 
the Luftwaffe. On the seventeenth Goring accepted Milch’s proposal for a 
fourth air force headquarters, Luftflotte 4, to command the new south-eastern 
sector, under the Austrian General Lohr, and four days later he returned to his 
holiday at San Remo. When the territory of Memel was returned to the Reich 
and Hitler formally entered the city on the twenty-third, Milch exercised his 
newly granted status as Goring’s deputy for the first time, awaiting Hitler at the 



gates of that ancient German city. 70 

In Poland the transfer of Memel roused apprehensions lest a coup might 
be imminent against Danzig. The Polish government ordered partial mobiliza- 
tion and upon his return to Berlin Milch quoted the latest intelligence reports 
in his diary on 25 March: ‘Fighting between Hungary and Slovakia; Poland is 
mobilizing against us, Rumania against Hungary, France against Italy. Sheer 
confusion amongst the rest.’ On the same day Hitler disclosed to von Brau- 
chitsch that he might well force a solution of the Danzig and Polish Corridor 
problems in the future; and when the German High Command (OKW) issued 
its annual directive on 3 April one section accordingly dealt with the possibility 
of an attack on Poland. 71 The earliest date for this operation, Fall Weiss, was 
named as 1 September 1939. The OKW asked each service to submit a draft 
timetable of operations. 

Of all this Goring remained happily unaware until his return from San 
Remo on r8 April. Then, over dinner one evening, Hitler suddenly said that 
Danzig must become German again and that there must be a solution to the 
Corridor problem. He would resort to war if all else failed, and he reminded 
Goring that he had prepared other situations skilfully, and this would be no 
exception. 72 On the twenty-seventh Jeschonnek disclosed the Luftwaffe’s plans 
within Fall Weiss to a large circle of officers including Milch: the Luftwaffe was 
to destroy the Polish air force first, then turn to the disruption of Polish mobi- 
lization efforts and tactical support for the German army. 73 

The spectre of war with Britain was again raised, the more so since Britain 
had now offered a treaty to Poland, guaranteeing her assistance in the event of 
war. General Felmy conducted a three-day war exercise at the Second Air 
Force’s Brunswick headquarters during May, based on a war with Britain; Milch 
flew to Brunswick on the thirteenth to hear the outcome. 74 Felmy concluded 
that the Luftwaffe could not possibly be ready for a major war in 1939, a view 
echoed a week later by the Air Staff s operations division in a study on ‘Tactical 
Aims for the Luftwaffe in the Event of War against Britain in 1939’. The latter 
study emphasized right at the beginning, ‘the equipment, state of training and 
strength of the Second Air Force cannot bring about a quick decision in any war 
with Britain in 1939.’ In particular the He 111 bomber was inadequate in range 



and numbers, suitable anti-shipping tactics had yet to be developed, and the 
standard of blind-flying was not high enough. 75 All this was precisely what 
Milch had been warning of all along. In r933 he had asked for ten years to build 
the Luftwaffe into an efficient fighting service. But Goring was apparently un- 
convinced by the threat of war with Britain and departed from Berlin to re- 
sume once again his interrupted holiday in Italy on 3 May. 

This easy lack of concern reassured Milch that war was still a distant pros- 
pect. Like Goring he had much to live for, and much to lose if war broke out. 
Some of his minister’s luxurious inclination had rubbed off on him; while he 
never gave up his modest Steglitz flat, he too had become a keen huntsman and 
had built a hunting lodge in idyllic surroundings outside Berlin. Much of his 
time was consumed in furnishing this new home, and in family affairs. His elder 
daughter had married a Luftwaffe officer. Late in May, however, he attended a 
secret conference with Hitler which left him with the impression that this time 
war might not be averted. On the morning of 23 May r939 Bodenschatz tele- 
phoned him and said that Hitler was going to address his C-in-Cs at four 
o’clock that afternoon; could Milch go in Goring’s place? In Hitler’s study in 
the Reich Chancery Milch found about a dozen chairs facing a small lectern. On 
the middle chair was a card with Goring’s name and here he took his place 
flanked by Raeder on one side and Brauchitsch and the OKW’s General Keitel 
on the other. 76 

It is impossible to state with certainty what Hitler disclosed to them. A 
memorandum exists by Hitler’s chief adjutant, Schmundt, but it was probably 
written long afterward for it lists as present both Goring and another officer 
who was absent, and the contents are in no way germane to the military situa- 
tion of May r939. 77 All the witnesses questioned about the conference seven 
years later at Nuremberg had been shown Schmundt’s record first; most of 
them emphatically questioned its accuracy. Milch later wrote that Hitler’s pur- 
pose was to warn his C-in-Cs against complacency, the belief that this time too 
he would solve Germany’s problems without war; they should apply themselves 
more urgently to the armaments problem. In Nuremberg Prison Milch pri- 
vately asked Raeder for his recollection; the admiral stressed at once that it was 
not an active preparation for war, but just Hitler ‘letting his light as warlord 



glow a little’. 78 Whatever was said, Milch’s documents and the surviving records 
of the Reich Air Ministry betray no evidence consistent with active preparation 
for war until the beginning of August 1939. 

There are certainly tokens of contingency planning. ‘Can the Volkswagen 
works manufacture aero-engines in the event of war?’ Goring asked of Udet on 
21 June. 79 And on the twenty-third he pointed out to the Reich Defence Coun- 
cil that the disguised methods hitherto employed to move troops would be 
useless if a military operation should be launched ‘unexpectedly and at short 
notice’.* The Luftwaffe’s expansion was due for completion in 1942, and as late 
as the end of July 1939 Goring calmly accepted the assessment by Milch and 
Udet that the ultimate strength of five thousand Ju 88 bombers would be 
reached in April 1943. 81 On 22 July 1939 Raeder confirmed to his officers that 
the Fiihrer had given him an undertaking that no war was at hand. 82 Hitler 
made similar statements to Milch, when the latter reported that recently in 
Rome Mussolini had also stated, ‘War is inevitable, but we shall try to postpone 
it until 1942.’ Hitler reassured Milch that the Duce’s fear of war breaking out 
even then was quite mistaken. 83 

None the less, on 8 June Milch and Udet took their anxieties about the 
continued shortage of raw materials for the Luftwaffe to Rudolf Hess, to prod 
him into interceding with Hitler on the Luftwaffe’s behalf; currently the war- 
ship construction programme had the highest priority for materials and man- 
power. 84 Milch knew, perhaps better than anyone else, how unprepared the 
Luftwaffe was. They still lacked trained commanders at every level. They had 
fuel stores sufficient for war operations for six months at most. 85 The bomb 
dumps held enough bombs for about three weeks’ hostilities against a small en- 
emy and most of these were 10-kilogramme bombs secretly purchased by the 
Reichswehr a decade before; sample quantities of 50- and 250-kilogramme 
bombs and a very few 500-kilogramme bombs had been manufactured for the 
Spanish War, but all larger sizes were still on the drawing board. 86 Hitler for- 
bade the manufacture of more, explaining to Milch, ‘Nobody inquires whether 

* Goring warned, ‘In the field of transport, for example, Germany is still not ready for war. 
There were no real troop movements involved in the three operations of 1938 and 1939. ’ 80 


I have any bombs or ammunition, it is the number of aircraft and guns that 
count.’ Only 182,000 tons of steel had been allocated to air force equipment and 
ammunition in the year ending 1 April 1939, compared with 380,400 tons for 
the expansion of the industry and civil aviation. Hardly can a nation have 
planned for world war within one year with less foresight than Germany in 
1939 - 

The only lasting solution was to impress Hitler with the Luftwaffe’s potential. In 
mid-April r939 Milch had already proposed to Goring that they should lay on a 
display to show Hitler their most advanced weaponry: ‘The Luftwaffe must 
make use of such a display to win support for its expansion programme, since if 
war does break out it will have to bear the brunt of the fighting in the west vir- 
tually alone for the next few years.’ Goring agreed, and a dress rehearsal was 
laid on for the Italians toward the end of June, at Rechlin. 87 

The special display for Hitler was arranged on 3 July, a fine summer af- 
ternoon. It was to have significant effects on Hitler’s thinking, for he evidently 
drew conclusions about the Luftwaffe’s operational readiness which would have 
been better drawn from a visit to operational squadrons, not to a research estab- 
lishment. The equipment at Rechlin was beyond doubt the most advanced in 
the world: there was the He 100 fighter and its rival, the Me 109, which had just 
smashed the Heinkel’s world speed record; there was the world’s first rocket- 
propelled interceptor aircraft, the He 176; the Fiihrer was also shown the new 
30-millimetre aircraft cannon, the MK 101, a weapon of annihilating effect, 
mounted in an Me 110 twin-engined fighter jacked up in the firing butts. Hitler 
saw a heavily overloaded He 111 bomber thunder into the air with rocket- 
assisted take-off units. In the laboratories he inspected a high-altitude pressur- 
ized cockpit and a new Luftwaffe procedure for starting aero-engines in sub- 
zero temperatures. 88 General Milch was undoubtedly pleased at the impression 
made on Hitler and there is no evidence that he recognized the damage that 
had been done.* The display did not better the Luftwaffe’s raw materials posi- 

* This is disputed by the field marshal in postwar accounts, where he has claimed that he 
warned Hitler that none of these new weapons would be in service for five years at least . 89 



tion, but now Hitler, like the French War Minister Ferdinand Leboeuf seventy 
years before, believed that his forces were archi-prets for war. 

Four years later the squadrons were still waiting for most of the equip- 
ment he had seen in 1939. The Fiihrer never forgave the Luftwaffe for this. In 

1942 Goring was to complain, ‘Do you know, I once witnessed a display before 
the war at Rechlin, compared with which I can only say — what bunglers all our 
professional magicians are! Because the world has never before and never will 
again see the likes of what was conjured up before my — and far worse, the 
Fiihrer’s — eyes at Rechlin!’ 90 He resolved never to set foot inside Rechlin again, 
and when none the less he did in May 1942 he again recalled with bitterness that 
July day in 1939: ‘The Fiihrer reached the most serious decisions as a result of 
that display,’ he said. ‘It was a miracle that things worked out as well as they did, 
and that the consequences were not far worse.’ 91 Hitler himself expressed simi- 
lar recriminations to his acting Chief of Air Staff in the summer of 1944. 92 

The non-production of the equipment was not Goring’s fault alone. Both 
verbally and in writing Goring stressed to his staff Hitler’s interest in the 30- 
millimetre cannon (Hitler had emphasized, ‘We just can’t have too many 
heavy-calibre weapons’) and the high-altitude cockpit. 93 On 20 July Udet was 
informed, ‘The held marshal [Goring] emphasized the significance of the high- 
altitude bomber and demanded that the trials should be speeded up by all 
means at our disposal. In this connection he also mentioned the development of 
a high-altitude fighter aircraft.’ 94 Goring also ordained the rapid manufacture 
of three thousand 30-millimetre cannon. None of these orders was followed up. 
Four years later Milch was forced to reopen the long-closed hie on high- 
altitude fighter and bomber aircraft; and as for the 30-millimetre cannon, by 

1943 only 220 had been manufactured, none of which had reached the front- 
line squadrons. Udet’s office actively blocked some of the most advanced re- 
search undertaken by independent aircraft designers. Goring’s request for re- 
search into building aircraft from wood laminates was ignored. The He 100 was 
dropped although 50 mph faster than the standard Me 109, and when Heinkel 
protested Udet’s chief engineer wrote on 12 July forbidding him to pursue the 
matter. 95 Udet adopted the same half-comic attitude toward all new inventions. 
Of Heinkel’s rocket-propelled interceptor, the He 176, he jested, ‘Every take-off 



that prospers is a crash that miscarries, in that thing’, and he ordered the pro- 
totype to be shipped to a Berlin aviation museum; here it was destroyed in an 
Allied air raid in 1943. 96 When, a few weeks later, the world’s first pure jet air- 
craft, the He 178, flew no contract was forthcoming; Udet had already promised 
jet-fighter development to Messerschmitt. Certainly Milch — who saw the 
Heinkel jet flying in November 1939 — should have intervened, but Udet con- 
tinued to confer alone with Goring, and kept him in the dark. 

During these weeks Milch had only one personal conversation with his 
minister, on 21 July; Goring’s yacht Karin 11 was moored in a Westphalian wa- 
terway. Milch reported his impressions of a recent visit to Brussels and of the 
respects paid by King Leopold to a young Luftwaffe officer killed in the air dis- 
play there; but the Belgian public had displayed open hostility, and the RAF 
officers who had been friendly toward him in London were now cool and aloof. 
RAF Battles and Blenheims had carried out mock attacks on the crowds at the 
display. In Brussels, reported Milch, their London air attache had left him in no 
doubt that Britain would honour her obligations toward Poland. He reminded 
Goring that their young Luftwaffe had so far experienced five different Chiefs 
of Air Staff, and its latest was but a colonel; for the sake of continuity he begged 
Goring to make more use of him. Goring readily agreed, but as readily forgot 
about it afterward. 97 

By August 1939 it was plain that the important Ju 88 programme had gone 
wrong. Although being mass produced at half a dozen factories under Koppen- 
berg’s impetuous overall direction, it had still not reached the operational 
squadrons. Milch’s own enthusiasm for Koppenberg had long waned, but not 
Udet’s: the GL, who was an outstanding cartoonist, had drawn admiring cari- 
catures of his friend ‘Koppenbergini’ conjuring multiple Ju 88s out of a hat; 
and of Koppenberg as a bull in the industry’s china-shop, putting his indolent 
and contrary rivals all to flight. But the early test flights at Rechlin were costing 
lives and precious time. The eventual peak output was set at 172 per month, but 
Udet advised Hitler at Rechlin that this was impossible because of the alumin- 
ium shortage; Goring reluctantly approved cuts in the other aircraft types to 
allow the Ju 88 target to be met. On 20 July Udet admitted to Goring that the 



design faults now showing up would set them back three months. In April 
Goring could boast to Mussolini, ‘Such is the range of this bomber that it can 
not only attack Britain but also carry on to the west and bomb the shipping 
lanes across the Atlantic!’ By March 1943 he would know better: ‘The plane has 
so far not even flown as far as Ireland,’ he raged. ‘Now can you understand my 
boundless exasperation! What you people have been turning out is the product 
of a pig-sty!’ 98 

Milch watched the project’s difficulties with the mixed feelings of one 
whose predictions have been proved correct, but whose country will suffer the 
consequences. Originally planned as a super-fast bomber weighing only about 
six tons, the Ju 88 had rapidly put on weight as the list of Air Staff requirements 
grew. A vicious circle had developed: being heavier, it was slower; and being 
slower, it needed heavier armament after all; and all this drastically reduced its 
range. By mid-1939 the plane’s all-up weight on take-off was over twelve tons. 
Small wonder that Milch termed it a ‘flying barn door’. Udet hotly disputed 
that its speed had suffered, but to his intimates he showed a marked uneasiness. 
‘The main thing is, the plane does fly’, he pointed out to Ernst Heinkel. ‘Only 
Milch still has any objections — but he always was a stick-in-the-mud in my 
view. He never commits himself, so that it is impossible afterward to pin any- 
thing onto him should things go wrong.’ 99 

On 5 August Goring urgently ordered Milch, Udet and Jeschonnek to 
discuss a radical change in the ‘concentrated aircraft programme’ next day; 
they met on the sixth in the stateroom of Karin 11, as it steamed the twenty 
miles from Liineburg to Hamburg. Goring now demanded a Luftwaffe of attack 
— he was going to activate thirty-two new bomber wings by 1 April 1943 — 4,330 
aircraft, of which 2,460 were to be Ju 88s. This colossal expansion of the bomber 
force was to be effected at the expense of every other kind of aircraft, such as 
transporters and training aircraft. It was to be a Blitzkrieg Luftwaffe. Jeschonnek 
duly rephrased the Air Staff s requirements three days later: the aircraft indus- 
try was to concentrate on the He 177, Ju 88 and Me 210. The latter, a twin- 
engined dive-bomber and ground-attack plane, being an extended version of 
the Me 110 yet to be built. 100 In terms of totals, the Air Staff asked for 2,460 Ju 
88s, 800 He 177s and 3,000 Me 210s by April 1943; it is a measure of the disaster 



that was to come that by that date the Luftwaffe had in fact only one squadron 
with less than a dozen He 177s in service, while the Me 210 had been scrapped as 
useless in the spring of 1942, leaving acres of storage space crammed with use- 
less, corroding wings, fuselages and components. Goring ordered Koppenberg 
to report with the others to him again on the fifteenth, to discuss the feasibility 
of producing 300 Ju 88s a month; Udet demanded a Fiihrer decree equivalent 
to that secured by the navy in January, and this was signed by Hitler on 2r 
August. 101 

By that date the political situation had sharply altered. On 14 August Hitler 
summoned Goring and the other C-in-Cs to Berchtesgaden and informed 
them of his decision to attack Poland. Goring immediately ordered Milch to 
join him there, and Milch flew down on the fifteenth from Prague, where he 
had been inspecting Luftwaffe units. At rr a.m. Goring told him of Hitler’s re- 
solve — the Fiihrer considered the coming crisis a test of nerves, and he would 
show the Poles his were the stronger. This could not be said of Goring, who 
seemed to Milch particularly apprehensive of the future. Milch flew back to 
Berlin and briefed the departmental heads and Jeschonnek along the guidelines 
Goring had given him. For the next three days his principal task was issuing the 
directives for war, in Goring’s name. 102 

He took it all at a leisurely pace, retiring from the August heat of Berlin to 
the cool of his forest hunting lodge each evening, while the Luftwaffe machine 
slowly wound up for Armageddon. On the twenty- first he was recalled to 
Goring’s Obersalzberg villa to confer with the four Luftflotte commanders, 
Generals Kesselring, Felmy, Sperrle and Lohr. Udet had brought the latest 
figures on British, French and Polish fighters and bombers. At that moment 
eleven production Ju 88s were on hand at Rechlin, and four more would be- 
come available before the twenty- eighth, ‘provided no unforeseen technical 
problems occur.’ This was hardly the armada of Ju 88s Goring had called for a 
year before. At this final Luftwaffe conference Goring disclosed that Hitler 
planned to attack Poland early on the twenty-sixth. Luftwaffe operations would 
be controlled by the First and Fourth Air Forces (Kesselring and Lohr). Goring 
was a different man from the nervous apparition of six days before; he an- 



nounced that Stalin had telegraphed Hitler his agreement to an immediate pact 
with Germany. 103 ‘Russia will not march against us now,’ he beamed. Russia and 
Germany as allies? At that moment, Milch must have recalled the admiring sug- 
gestion of a Russian NCO he took prisoner in March 1915: ‘Russki soldier und 
Prusski officer — whole world kaput Z’ 104 

Hitler summoned fifty of his senior commanders to the Berghof next day 
and delivered a harangue in the tradition of Caesar and of Hannibal. In effect 
he proclaimed that there was to be a short war, a just war and a war which 
Germany could not lose. ‘It is a matter of war and victory, not of law and jus- 
tice!’ Poland now stood alone. The Luftwaffe would ‘grind away’ the enemy, 
and — an evident echo of his visit to Rechlin — ‘our technical superiority will 
mangle every Polish nerve’. Britain had only 150 flak guns in the entire country 
— equivalent to one month’s output in Germany. No discussion followed the 
lengthy speech. 105 Goring had his closer relatives withdrawn from front-line 
units and posted to the rear; and perhaps to camouflage his action he withdrew 
Milch’s relatives as well. Milch, more honourably, casually despatched his own 
family from Berlin to a holiday on the Baltic coast. He himself camped in the 
Air Ministry building each night. On 25 August Hitler ordered the attack to 
begin at 4.45 a.m. next morning. 

Scarcely was this order issued, however, than it was countermanded. Early 
on the twenty-sixth Milch was summoned first to Karinhall — where he found 
Goring had already left — and then to the Reich Chancery. In Hitler’s study he 
found an atmosphere of gloom. Hitler was vehemently cursing Italy; Ribben- 
trop and Keitel were nodding their agreement. Hitler said the Italians were 
finding excuses not to join the attack on Poland and the British had accordingly 
ratified their pact with Poland. Milch read the latest Italian communication and 
exclaimed, ‘ Mein Ftihrer, this is the best thing that could have happened! For if 
the Italians were to march against us, then we should have to divert troops 
against them; if Italy joins forces with us, then the enemy will always know pre- 
cisely where the chink in our armour is; but if they stay benevolent neutrals, we 
can obtain all manner of goods from them — raw materials, oil and war sup- 
plies.’ This was an aspect Hitler had evidently not considered and over lunch he 
brightened considerably. He believed that Britain was counting on Poland to 



give way. 106 

That night Milch slept at the Luftwaffe underground operations centre 
outside Potsdam. Goring’s special war train, a collection of purpose-built con- 
ference cars, wireless rooms and flat tops with 20-millimetre flak mountings, 
had also been shunted into the compound; here Milch and Jeschonnek were 
summoned at 3.30 a.m. on the twenty-seventh, as Goring drove up from Ber- 
lin. He announced that King Victor Emmanuel in of Italy was responsible for 
Mussolini’s refusal to honour his Pact of Steel commitments. Later that day the 
four Luftflotte commanders were given their final briefing, and on the twenty- 
eighth Milch toured the airfields of General Grauert’s First Air Division, from 
which the main attack would be launched. 107 On the afternoon of 31 August the 
executive order was issued to the Luftwaffe to open the attack on Poland next 
day. 108 Goring still believed that hostilities could be localized to Poland, but 
Milch did not share this illusion: everything he had seen in Britain pointed the 
other way. On 3 September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany, 
and within a year the Luftwaffe was to be locked in combat with an adversary to 
whom Douhet’s principles could not so easily be applied. 




‘The war is to continue!’ 
Hitler to Milch, 12 October 1939 




September 1939-May 1940 

at the outbreak of the war the Luftwaffe was formidable in size but suffered 
from a weak substructure. Its basic strength before mobilization in August 1939 
was some 370,000 men, of which 208,000 were in the air force (including 20,000 
aircrew and 1,500 paratroops), 107,000 were in the flak and 58,000 were in the 
air signals units. 1 Its basic weaknesses, in Milch’s view, looking back after the 
war, were the following: its vertical organization in four territorially determined 
Luftflotte commands was proper for home defence, but unsuitable for carrying 
the attack far beyond Germany’s frontiers. There was too little consultation 
between the three services, and only the most inadequate joint manoeuvres. 
Milch would have preferred a horizontal organization, with all-Reich com- 
mands for fighters, bombers and the ground Observer Corps, on the British 
models. The airfields had not been built with an eye to the size of the new gen- 
eration of aircraft that was to come; indeed the Luftwaffe still lacked a long- 
range strategic bomber aircraft (the He 177, designed to fill this gap, would not 
fly until November), it lacked night bombers, bombs larger than one thousand 
pounds, air torpedoes, modern mines, modern armament and bombsights. 
Many of the shortcomings, such as the absence of air-to-air communication 
facilities between bomber formations and their escorting fighter groups, were to 
become evident only in 1940; others, such as the Luftwaffe’s inadequate invest- 
ment in ground-to-air guided missile development, not until 1943. 2 



As war now broke out, the Luftwaffe did still field the largest air force fleet 
in the world: 4,093 first-line aircraft (of which 3,646 were operational) were 
available, including i,r76 bombers, 408 twin-engined and 771 single-engined 
fighters and 552 Ju 52 transport aircraft (mostly still on loan to training 
schools). 3 But there were wholly inadequate reserves and the air industry’s ca- 
pacity was only a quarter of what it was later to become under Milch’s direction. 
Germany had no significant stockpiles of materials such as aluminium, magne- 
sium or rubber. In short, the indications are that world war came three years 
sooner than Hitler expected. 

The local conflict in Poland lasted less than a month. Each evening Milch re- 
ported to Goring at his Potsdam headquarters and each morning he set out 
early in his fast Dornier bomber and toured the battlefields of east Prussia and 
Silesia, or climbed into a Fieseler Storch and dropped in on local air command- 
ers. In this way he gained insight into their requirements and the course of the 

On 13 September Milch accompanied a Luftwaffe dive-bomber attack. He 
took off with about 180 Stukas; Kesselring was relying on dive-bombers for the 
main attacks on Warsaw, to ensure that at this stage only the strictly military 
targets were hit. 4 The Polish capital put up a wall of flak as the Ju 87s peeled off 
and dived on their targets, their ‘Udet sirens’ screaming in the slipstream. From 
his Do 17 Milch could see every bomb blast, and he reported the results of the 
attack to Goring afterward. With the possible exception of the saturation attack 
on the Polish capital at the end of the campaign, no strategic bombing was at- 
tempted during this phase; the Luftwaffe restricted itself to army support op- 
erations. 5 

After twenty-two days the main fight was over, but the air force had ex- 
hausted over half its bomb supplies. 6 Compared with the army’s losses, how- 
ever, the Luftwaffe’s casualties were very low: they had lost 285 of the r,939 air- 
craft in the Polish theatre; and Milch’s private papers show that the air force 
had lost 239 airmen, with a further 88 missing, one-fifth being officers. By com- 
parison, the Luftwaffe lost a further 520 airmen killed and 298 missing during 
the ‘phoney war’ operations from 1 September 1939 to the end of March r940 



on the western front, for no subsequent gain. 7 

On 27 September Hitler instructed his C-in-Cs that he intended to open an 
offensive against France as soon as possible. 8 The Luftwaffe’s most serious prob- 
lem was that the bomber force would exhaust its remaining supply of bombs 
within the first two weeks of any new campaign. At first Hitler refused to allow 
the Luftwaffe to resume bomb production, but by 12 October 1939 he had to 
accept that both Britain and France had rejected his terms. He summoned 
Goring, Milch and Udet and announced, ‘You may now manufacture bombs 
again. The war is to continue!’ 9 He held them personally responsible for ensur- 
ing adequate stocks when he opened his campaign in the west. Milch proposed 
to Goring that he should be given dictatorial powers, above Udet’s head, to or- 
ganize an urgent bomb-production programme. Goring agreed. It was now 
that Milch remembered a visit he and Udet had paid two years before to a Swiss 
factory specializing in the manufacture of concrete bombs filled with shrapnel. 10 
He ordered a factory outside Berlin to start churning out concrete bombs at 
once, and on his return from Norway in April 1940 learnt that a stockpile of 
several million concrete bombs had been produced, which he considered 
enough. * 

The prolongation of the war took Ernst Udet, as Director of Air Arma- 
ment, by surprise. When he and Milch visited the Heinkel factories on the Bal- 
tic coast at the beginning of November to see the He 177 heavy bomber and the 
He 178 jet aircraft (the latter in flight), Udet took Heinkel aside and murmured 
to him, ‘I never really thought there would be war with Britain.’ 12 Increasingly 
it was now Milch who had to step into this breach left by Udet, giving advice on 
the maze of technical problems facing them. 

* At the time he even believed the fifty-kilo concrete bombs superior to the small H.E. steel-cased 
bombs. Later he changed his opinion. In a conference in November 1942 he admitted, ‘The tests 
carried out here quite clearly establish the opposite. I am obliged to change my view. The others 
(the concrete bombs) are thus only of use as a stop-gap, as was intended at the time.’ But he 
added, ‘I am no champion of the concrete bomb, but if the French campaign had started right 
after the Polish one, we in the Luftwaffe would probably have been relegated to the sidelines. The 
war would have been over for us on the fifth day.’ 11 



Meanwhile, in Berlin Goring prepared for the new campaign with fre- 
quent nervous conferences — in Milch’s view to indicate to Hitler how alert he 
really was. On 5 November Hitler fixed the new date as the twelfth, but he 
bowed to the Luftwaffe’s requirement of five days’ fine weather so that the 
French air force could be destroyed. Goring presided over daily meteorological 
conferences and took frequent counsel of his chief weather expert, Diesing. 13 
The one thing Goring feared most was fine weather, with the Luftwaffe as un- 
ready as it was. Milch could see the various pressures that Hitler and Goring 
brought to bear on this expert, but Diesing would not give way. ‘ Mein Ftihrer ,’ 
he said once, ‘I will gladly be bold and predict fine weather for three days, but 
not foolhardy — not five days!’ Goring even consulted a ‘rainmaker’, a certain 
Herr Schwefler who professed to influence the weather; he was paid a hundred 
thousand marks, but whether Goring instructed him to make five days’ good or 
five months’ bad weather proved immaterial, for his equipment later turned 
out to be a broken domestic wireless set. 14 

Both Hitler and Milch were aware that time was working to Germany’s 
disadvantage. Intelligence put the combined British and French air strength at 
1,782 bombers and 1,823 fighters on 1 January 1940, of which perhaps sixty per- 
cent were operational. Milch knew that both Britain and France were purchas- 
ing aircraft from America — he even knew the precise figures — so it was only a 
matter of time before the Luftwaffe found itself confronted by a numerically 
equal enemy. 

Hitler now fixed the date for the attack on Belgium, Holland and France 
for 17 January. Belgium and Holland had been particularly included at 
Jeschonnek’s request, to provide advance Luftwaffe bases from which to attack 
Britain and defend the Reich’s airspace. 15 But a week before — even as Milch was 
accepting a high decoration at the hands of the Belgian ambassador — a light 
aircraft from General Felmy’s Second Air Force strayed over the Belgian fron- 
tier and crash-landed; the aircraft had been carrying an unauthorized passen- 
ger, and he in turn had been carrying the entire operational plans for an air- 
borne unit in the attack on Belgium due a few days hence. When Milch went to 
Karinhall next day to congratulate Goring on his birthday the field marshal was 
still in agonies of uncertainty about the incident. 16 



The news was the blackest mark so far against the reputation of the whole 
air force. Goring later said, ‘The Fiihrer rebuked me frightfully, as the C-in-C 
of the unfortunate courier, for having allowed a major part of our western mo- 
bilization and the very fact of such German plans to be betrayed. Look what a 
ghastly burden on my nerves it is to know that in the Fuhrer’s view my Luft- 
waffe officers have thrown this, the German people’s mortal struggle, into jeop- 
ardy !’ 17 The episode nearly finished Goring, so seriously did Hitler view this 
security lapse; Goring sacrificed Felmy and his chief of staff, Colonel Kam- 
mhuber, and dismissed them immediately pour encourager les autres . 18 Op- 
portunist that Milch undoubtedly was, and glimpsing a chance to escape Berlin, 
he urged Goring to give him the vacant Second Air Force command. Goring 
was not averse to this, but Jeschonnek flatly objected. Goring gave the post to 
General Kesselring . 19 

The German legation in Brussels made discreet inquiries to find out 
whether the documents had been safely destroyed. That evening Milch found 
Goring somewhat more relaxed since word had arrived from General Wen- 
ninger, the attache in Brussels, that the officers were claiming to have burnt 
them. Goring tried to burn a comparable bundle of documents himself, but the 
result was inconclusive. At his wife’s suggestion he consulted clairvoyants and 
they sagely — though inaccurately, as we now know — pronounced that no 
trace of the incriminating documents had survived . 20 In any event, as Milch 
noted in his diary next day, the ‘big event’ had been ‘postponed for some days 
because of the weather (thaw)’. Three days later Hitler postponed the operation 
until the spring. 

The winter was exceptionally severe. The canals froze over and raw mate- 
rial movements inside Germany came to a standstill. The aircraft in squadron 
service were found to be unequal to the cold: the oxygen equipment of the 
fighters failed at high altitudes and the guns jammed, and several lives were lost 
through causes like these . 21 But gradually the Luftflotte commanders were able 
to report that their bomb dumps were filling up; a number of 2,200-pounders 
had reached them by the end of January and they had about two hundred 
thousand of the scarce 110-pounders by the end of March . 22 

Aircraft production itself was still falling short of expectations; for this the 



shortage of steel and duralumin was partly to blame. Early in February 1940 
Goring ordered that as an economy any Wehrmacht project which would not 
bear fruit until after the war was over was to be ruthlessly cancelled, with the 
exception of the plan of Professor Krauch, director of IG Farben, for the syn- 
thetic production of fuel. But how long was the war to last? The official record 
of Goring’s conference gave a clue: ‘Those projects are considered vital which 
will be completed in 1940 or will be bearing fruit by 1941 at the latest.’ 23 Ernst 
Udet accordingly cancelled the Jumo 004 jet engine until further notice, along 
with the Me 262 jet airframe; other important fields of research like ground-to- 
air missiles were also set back. 24 When voices were raised in protest Udet 
brushed them aside: ‘Now that I am a full general,’ he told aircraft manufac- 
turer Ernst Heinkel, ‘the squadrons will just have to accept the aircraft I give 
them.’ 25 

Outwardly Milch and Udet were still the closest friends, but Milch was increas- 
ingly irked by the other’s direct access to Field Marshal Goring. One day in 
March 1940, as they were all three returning from a tour of the operational 
squadrons in the west, Goring began to praise the Director of Air Armament 
for all they had seen. Milch angrily pointed out that not all the credit was due 
to Udet: the He 111 had first been ordered by Lufthansa and the other aircraft 
and engines had been ordered long before Udet’s appointment. 26 Since war had 
broken out there had been no increase in aircraft output (in the first four 
months only 1,869 aircraft had been delivered — less than the output of one 
month after Milch took over). Milch later learned that whereas crankshaft out- 
put from two factories had been 6,700 a month in 1938 and 1939, a year later the 
output was only 7,900 (‘as though war had not broken out on 1 September 
1 939 > )- 27 Some of Milch’s words must have sunk into Goring, because next time 
he held a conference on aircraft production with Udet he asked Milch to be 
present as well. 28 These developments undoubtedly gave Udet food for 

After the Altmark incident, Hitler accelerated planning for a possible German 
invasion of Norway. 29 At the beginning of the year he had circulated a 



Wehrmacht study to the three services, providing for a planning staff under a 
Luftwaffe general to devise possible invasion plans for Norway. Erhard Milch 
was the general selected to head this small staff, code-named ‘Oyster’, and it 
held its first and last meeting on 14 January. 30 But he also fell victim to the 
Felmy incident. The more the Fiihrer had pondered the less satisfied he was of 
the Luftwaffe’s ability to keep secrets. In any campaign against Norway — where 
the German navy would be at huge disadvantage — surprise was of the essence. 
He ordered the study to be recalled, ‘Oyster’ to be dissolved, and all further 
planning to be confined to the cloisters of the High Command. 31 Here the 
preparations were coordinated by a navy captain, while an army corps com- 
mander, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, was appointed to direct the actual 
operation. Initially air operations would be conducted by General Hans Geis- 
ler’s Tenth Air Corps, consisting of a number of bomber and fighter squadrons. 

The Wehrmacht invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940, in a 
lightning coup a few hours before British forces, which had already been em- 
barked, could undertake a similar operation of their own for the occupation of 
Norway. The Special Transport Squadron 172, established from Lufthansa crews 
under the company’s traffic manager, ferried hundreds of troops in Ju 52s to 
the airfields seized by paratroops in Norway. 32 The Luftwaffe’s first preoccupa- 
tion was to consolidate its hold on the airfields, from which General Geisler’s 
bombers could attack the Royal Navy’s units that now hastened to Norway’s aid. 

Goring told Milch that he was to be given an operational command at last: 
he was to establish a Fifth Air Force command in Norway, to control the Tenth 
Air Corps’s operations there. He would not lose his jealously guarded rights as 
state secretary and as Goring’s representative in Berlin, but Norway was to come 
first, as a prologue to the main air war against Britain. In addition to directing 
Luftwaffe support of Falkenhorst’s operations — now increasingly hampered by 
the Norwegian resistance — Milch was to expand, modernize and increase in 
number the airfields in Norway and Denmark. As soon as the attack on France 
became imminent he would be recalled to Berlin at once. 33 

It seems in retrospect that Goring had two reasons for putting Milch in 
charge of the new air force. If the Norwegian campaign went against the Ger- 
mans, Milch would get the blame; and he wanted to get him away from Berlin 



and his troubled protege Udet. Significantly, when Milch suggested locating 
Fifth Air Force headquarters in Hamburg, because of communication problems 
inside Norway, Goring insisted on Oslo. The result was that Milch had inade- 
quate communication with the most important airfield, Stavanger, and with the 
(totally unsuitable) emergency airfield at Trondheim, as there were no cables or 
telephone lines and the wireless signals were screened by high mountains. 

Milch attacked the new task with vigour. In southern Norway the Luft- 
waffe was operating about six hundred fighters, bombers and reconnaissance 
aircraft, and over six hundred transporters had airlifted the German troops to 
this theatre. It was vital to consolidate their hold on the main airfields — 
Stavanger (Sola), Oslo (Fornebu and Kjeller) and Trondheim (Vaernes) — as 
air superiority was to be the key to the struggle. In the south it would be virtu- 
ally complete, as the enemy had no airfields at all; but near Narvik the British 
managed in time to establish two fighter squadrons and these made long-range 
Luftwaffe support operations extremely hazardous. Milch flew to Hamburg to 
await a chance to set up his headquarters in Oslo; by 13 April Goring was already 
telephoning repeatedly from Berlin, urging the Luftwaffe to launch full-scale 
air operations in support of the beleaguered forces at Narvik. 34 

Bad weather now kept Milch grounded in Hamburg for several days. He 
attended four days of conferences with the Air Staff and Hitler on the crisis in 
northern Norway, complicated by a British seaborne landing at Namsos, 125 
miles by road north of the major port of Trondheim, which was obviously the 
objective. There were also reconnaissance reports of an imminent British land- 
ing at Andalsnes, 200 miles by road to the south. (The latter operation did not 
in fact take place until the seventeenth.) The Namsos landing was unopposed 
and in considerable strength; if Trondheim were captured by the British it 
would make the relief of Narvik impossible and would jeopardize the whole 
operation. When the first reports of the landings near Trondheim reached 
Hitler he sent for Goring, Milch and Jeschonnek to confer on means of con- 
taining the British forces believed to be at Andalsnes: he recommended that 
with even more urgency than the support operations for General Dietl’s men at 
Narvik, the air force should rush paratroops to the endangered area, strafe ar- 
moured trains and employ what he called ‘Udet bombers’ — i.e., dive-bombers 



— to sink the British warships offshore. The small harbour of Andalsnes itself 
should be destroyed by KG 4s bombers, together with the invading troops it 
contained. Hitler also directed that the railway lines near Andalsnes should be 
cut, but only temporarily (the important viaducts should be left intact). If the 
German-controlled railways elsewhere were sabotaged the nearest villages were 
to be wiped out. 35 Milch was urgently to improve Vaernes airfield, about twenty 
miles east of Trondheim, and to enlarge a second landing ground there, for 
Stuka and transport squadrons. Milch telephoned these instructions to General 
Geisler in Hamburg at once. 

He flew to Stavanger on 16 April. Geisler’s squadrons there were heavily 
committed to operations against British naval units. The British found it almost 
impossible to attack Trondheim’s Vaernes airfield and instead bombarded ships 
and aircraft on Stavanger’s airfield, starting on the seventeenth. 36 By 18 April 
the British had landed thirteen thousand men at Namsos and Andalsnes and 
von Falkenhorst had the gravest fears for the German campaign’s future. Milch 
ordered the Luftwaffe’s twin-engined fighters and bombers to maintain their 
attack on the enemy troops. On 19 April the Luftwaffe delivered a devastating 
attack on the harbour and town of Namsos and left it in ruins. A few days later 
the British commander advised London, ‘I see little chance of carrying out de- 
cisive, or indeed any, operations, unless enemy air activity is considerably re- 
stricted.’ 37 

Toward the end of April the Germans’ situation in northern Norway 
further worsened, causing recrimination between the army and the Luftwaffe. 
Goring sent his staff officers to Oslo in order to report on Milch, but the latter 
kept his nerve throughout, even when the besieged Dietl’s position at Narvik 
seemed quite hopeless. Von Falkenhorst visited Milch, thoroughly dejected, and 
advised him, ‘We will all have to get back on the ships — we are just not getting 
anywhere.’ Their only hope was still more air support. 38 Milch did what he 
could. Two giant ex-Lufthansa Do 26 seaplanes were loaded with mountain 
troops and flown to Narvik (where they met a sticky end). At the same time a 
final effort was made to dislodge the Allied troops fighting their way toward 
Trondheim. Goring continued to intervene with ‘idiotic telegrams’ from Berlin. 
The breakthrough at Bagn on the twenty-seventh, greatly aided by dive- 



bomber support, spelt the end of Norwegian and British resistance in central 
Norway. On the twenty-eighth the evacuation of all troops at Namsos and An- 
dalsnes was ordered by the British; they left on 3 May, the transports and es- 
corts pursued by the Luftwaffe’s bombers all the way. All of Norway, except for 
Narvik, where Dietl’s mixed force of six thousand soldiers and sailors were 
holding twenty thousand Allied troops at bay, was now under German control. 

For the Norwegian operation, Erhard Milch’s only field command in the 
Second World War, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross. Hitler was later to utter 
high words of praise for Milch’s contribution to the campaign. In conference 
with Speer and others he recalled how the colonel-general had taken control of 
the situation as soon as he arrived in Norway, a situation which to others had 
appeared all but lost. ‘And why? Because here was a man like me, who just did 
not know the word impossible .’ 39 





May-July 1940 

in the first days of the attack on France and the Low Countries the Luftwaffe 
lived up to its reputation. Despite the recent diversion to Norway, Goring had 
marshalled nearly four thousand aircraft for the new offensive, including 1,482 
bombers and dive-bombers, 42 ground-attack aircraft, 248 twin-engined and 
1,016 single-engined fighters. The Allies had mustered 1,151 fighters in France, 
but very many fewer bombers than the Germans. At dawn on 10 May 1940 wave 
after wave of German aircraft crossed the frontiers and attacked over seventy of 
the enemy’s airfields, destroying large numbers of aircraft on the ground. 
Goring’s airborne troops seized key targets like the Moerdijk bridge in Holland 
and the Rotterdam strong points, while gliders silently landed on the fortresses 
of Belgium and took them by surprise. With almost complete air superiority 
achieved, the Luftwaffe changed to close support of the army’s operations, bat- 
tering a way for the columns of tanks and field-grey infantry storming in their 
wake. Thanks to Milch’s early insistence on mobility, the Luftwaffe’s squadrons 
were able to leapfrog forward from one captured airfield to the next, so that 
close air support was never lacking. By the evening of 11 May there were reports 
that the enemy’s air forces had lost up to a thousand aircraft already. 

Milch flew his Dornier over the front line almost every day of the French 
campaign, witnessing every major battle; not without reason Ernst Udet 
sketched a winged Milch, camera in hand, hovering above the battlefields. Late 



on 15 May Goring’s special train, 
Asia, left Potsdam for the western 
front; at 11 a . m . next morning it 
reached its specially prepared site 
outside a railway tunnel near the 
French border. Every morning Milch 
attended Goring’s war conference to 
report on the most advanced squad- 
rons and armoured spearheads, then 
set out for six or seven hours in a 
Dornier and a Storch. In the evening 
he again reported on what he had 
seen and Goring retailed Milch’s re- 
connaissance report — sketched on a 
chart just as he had taught his airmen 
in the First World War — to Hitler’s 
headquarters not far away. Milch’s 
reports were both more accurate and 
swifter than the routine army recon- 
naissance reports. The rate of ad- 
vance was spectacular; the Luftwaffe’s 
squadron flags fluttered from air- 
fields farther and farther to the west. 

Milch photographing battlefield 
hotspots in 1940. 


It was clear that the first battle for France was nearly over. As the British Expe- 
ditionary Force — over a quarter of a million soldiers — withdrew to the Chan- 
nel ports, the German armour poised to cut them off. 

It was Hermann Goring who persuaded the Fuhrer to concentrate his 
army on other more immediate tasks than the capture of Dunkirk. 1 He saw it as 
an opportunity of scoring over the army and emphasizing the Luftwaffe’s 
prowess; after the war one of his adjutants was to state, ‘He used to look down 
on the army as a pitiful, obsolete branch of the armed forces.’ 2 On 23 May 
Goring telephoned to Hitler his view that the Luftwaffe’s ‘finest hour’ was at 
hand; single-handed it would destroy the British forces in France. 3 Against fu- 



rious army opposition Hitler welcomed the offer. (General Jodi, Hitler’s princi- 
pal strategic adviser, sarcastically observed to an adjutant, ‘There goes Goring 
shooting off his big mouth again!’) When Goring and Jeschonnek returned to 
Luftwaffe headquarters the former triumphed to Milch, ‘We have done it! The 
Luftwaffe is to wipe out the British on the beaches. I have managed to talk the 
Fiihrer round to halting the army.’ He waved aside Milch’s misgivings: ‘The 
army always wants to act the gentleman. They round up the British as prisoners 
with as little harm to them as possible. The Fiihrer wants them to be taught a 
lesson they won’t easily forget.’* 4 

Having made his promise Goring departed on his travels, flying to Am- 
sterdam. But now there were new conditions. Not only were the Luftwaffe’s 
bomber airfields too far from Dunkirk, but for three vital days they were blan- 
keted in fog. Thus on 30 May, although three hundred bombers stood by all 
day, with fighter cover promised, they were unable to take off because of ten- 
tenths cloud cover at three hundred feet. Meanwhile the brave shoals of British 
small craft embarked the fleeing British Expeditionary Force, while the French 
army fought a costly rearguard action. The small vessels presented poor targets 
for the Eighth Air Corps’s dive-bombers, accustomed to attacking tanks and 
airfields; the bombs buried deep in the sand before exploding, with little anti- 
personnel effect. The German tanks remained at a standstill, on Rundstedt’s 

More potent as an augury of future events was the local daylight air supe- 
riority achieved over the Me 109 by the British Spitfire fighter, operating at 
short ranges over Dunkirk. All German calculations had assumed that Professor 
Messerschmitt’s plane would prove the better of the two, but now the Spitfire 
wrought havoc on the German fighter squadrons and the bombers approach- 
ing Dunkirk were easy prey. One Ju 88 squadron was mauled almost into 
oblivion as it flew in from its distant airfield in Holland. Goring’s confidence, in 
short, remained misplaced: by 4 June, when Dunkirk was finally captured by 

* Hitler’s army adjutant wrote soon after, ‘The impression is that Goring has been actively 
stirring things up against the army. Fiihrer keeps harping on how reliable the Luftwaffe is 
ideologically, in contrast to the army .’ 5 



the German army, the British had rescued 338,000 men from France. At the 
time the long-term lessons, and even the fact of the miscarriage of German 
plans, were not recognized by Goring. 

Milch flew to Dunkirk on 5 June. The chaos left by a whole army in full 
flight made an awesome spectacle. The fields were full of untended cattle, and 
thousands of unguarded prisoners — mostly French — were trudging into the 
dead city, which had been reduced to ruins by the devastating Luftwaffe at- 
tacks. About fifty thousand abandoned vehicles were choking the streets con- 
verging on the beach, and the hulks of a score of large ships could be seen half- 
submerged off-shore; 235 vessels, including nine destroyers, had been sunk here 
by the Luftwaffe.* 6 

The sandy beaches were strewn with shoes, weapons, bicycles, lorries, food 
and abandoned property — linen, books and photographs scattered in confu- 
sion. It reminded Milch of the scenes in east Prussia after the rout of the Rus- 
sian invaders twenty- five years before. 

The fact that the army itself had escaped almost intact dawned on Goring 
only slowly. When Milch flew back to Asia that evening to report what he had 
seen Goring was still congratulating himself on the frightful debacle that the 
British army must have suffered. Milch disillusioned him: ‘The British army? I 
saw perhaps twenty or thirty corpses. The rest of the British army has got clean 
away to the other side. They have left their equipment and escaped.’ He agreed 
that being thrown out of France after only three weeks was a tremendous re- 
verse for the British, but, ‘The fact remains that they have succeeded in bring- 
ing out practically the whole of their army, and that is an achievement which it 
would be hard to beat.’ 7 

Goring asked what conclusions he would draw. ‘I would recommend,’ 
said Milch, ‘that this very day all our air units — of both the Second and Third 
Air Forces — should be moved up to the Channel coast, and that Britain should 
be invaded immediately .’ The navy would eventually have to be brought in to 

* A similar description of the chaos left by the British army on the approaches to Dunkirk will 
be found in the diary of General Fedor von Bock, the German army group commander. 



transfer the ground forces to southern England, but the highly mobile Luft- 
waffe could go over as they were. Their paratroops would have to capture a few 
vital airfields in southern England and the Luftwaffe would then immediately 
fly in fighter and Stuka squadrons to operate from them — just as they had in 
the Norwegian campaign. They had several hundred transport aircraft available 
and these could ferry over two or three divisions of troops with fighter escort. 
Obviously, Milch continued, it would be a great gamble without armour or 
heavy artillery for this spearhead, but he was convinced that for the next few 
days the British army would be incapable of combating a really determined 
landing. He warned Goring, ‘If we leave the British in peace for four weeks it 
will be too late.’ 

But Goring thought it could not be done. He may well have been right. 
He later explained, ‘I had only one paratroop division, and even that I had had 
to work up almost clandestinely, as I could make no headway with my demand 
for four such divisions against the demands of the army. Had I had these four 
divisions at the time of Dunkirk, I would have gone across to Britain immedi- 
ately.’ 8 

Milch saw in this hesitance the High Command’s first decisive mistake, and he 
laid most of the blame on his old enemy Admiral Raeder. He had gained the 
impression that Raeder had made no preparations for an invasion of England, 
and that to stall for time he now insisted that air supremacy must first be won 
by the Luftwaffe. And only as he raised this demand, Milch thought, had 
Raeder begun feverish activity to make up for the delay. By the summer of 1940 
the German air force was to be involved in a costly war of attrition at extended 
range against the British fighter squadrons; when the onset of autumn finally 
killed all hope of an invasion in 1940, the German navy was still unready but 
could now blame the Luftwaffe for not having fulfilled the main requirement. 

Visiting the various captured airfields and headquarters as Inspector 
during June 1940, Milch could see that in the absence of a Luhrer decree to that 
effect no preparations at all were being made for air war with Britain. 

The end of June 1940 brought respite to the German air force. No deci- 
sion had yet been reached on the future of the war. Hitler believed it was over 



and considered the appeal to Britain’s reason only a formality. It was time to 
reward his commanders: on 19 July Milch was among the new field marshals 
created by Hitler in a major Reichstag speech; for Goring an even more exalted 
rank was created, ‘ Reichsmarschall of the Greater German Reich’. 9 

Milch recognized the artificiality of a promotion which now ranked him 
equal to a von Moltke or a Hindenburg; and for a born climber there was a 
certain sense of denouement upon reaching a rank beyond which no mortal 
could mount, with any amount of energy, diligence or ruthlessness. And yet, 
‘Be that as it may, my pleasure was enormous and unforgettable.’ Under the old 
ordinance of 1878 field marshals took precedence over both the Reich Chancel- 
lor and the Reich ministers; they had a rank of which they could never be de- 
prived and from which they could never retire. Milch wore the new insignia 
proudly until the day of his capture, a gesture which attracted the fury of the 
more anonymously clad commandos into whose hands he was delivered at the 
end of the war. And he greeted with derision the American attempts to strip 
him of his rank: ‘You did not appoint me, so you cannot dismiss me!’ 10 The 
German field marshal traditionally enjoyed the right to full pay, with an office, 
a clerk, a staff officer and motor vehicles or horses to the end of his life. But 
these were the privileges of a field marshal in victory; the lot of a field marshal 
in defeat will be the subject of a later chapter. 




July-December 1940 

the ultimate german victory of arms over Britain is only a matter of time,’ 
General Jodi confidently concluded at the end of the French campaign. ‘Large- 
scale enemy operations are no longer possible.’ 1 These were not unreasonable 
prophesies. Hitler commanded strategic positions which even he had not ven- 
tured openly to predict a year before. From northern Norway down to the 
Spanish frontier, the entire European coastline facing Britain was in his hands. 
The Luftwaffe’s airfields were but an hour’s flight from London, while Berlin 
was virtually unattainable for the RAF. Having gained this position, however, 
Hitler proceeded to squander it, for he still had no intention of humiliating 
Britain. He considered the British a kindred race, perverse but not without in- 
telligence, and his eyes were already straying eastward toward his eternal, rest- 
less enemy, the Soviet Union. Until the end of 1940 he still dreamed of peace 
with Britain; and this alone explains why the man who nine months later was to 
show in the bombing of Belgrade with what ruthlessness he could invade a na- 
tion of Serbs stayed the hand of his Luftwaffe for two long months above Lon- 
don’s streets, and even then displayed traits of sentimentality — for example on 
Christmas Eve — wholly unprofitable in modern warfare. 

His staff were more old-fashioned and wanted to see Britain defeated, 
rather than coming to terms. Jodi reasoned, ‘First of all must come the fight 
against the British air force.’ 2 If they could destroy the British aircraft industry 



the RAF could no longer be replenished, and this in turn would preempt Brit- 
ain’s only means of attacking Germany, since naval blockade could no longer 
spell the end for the Reich. Indeed now the Luftwaffe could blockade Britain: 
‘In conjunction with propaganda and terror-raids from time to time — an- 
nounced as “reprisals” — a cumulative depletion of Britain’s food stocks will 
paralyse the will of the people to resist, and then break it altogether, forcing the 
capitulation of their government.’ 

Whether Jodi’s views would have proved true had they been put into practice 
at this point, one month after Dunkirk, may seem a moot point in the light of 
later events. But it was certainly the most advantageous time: there were still 
three clear summer months ahead for Luftwaffe operations, and with every 
week that passed the Royal Air Force’s defences were growing stronger, and at a 
faster rate than the comparable Luftwaffe expansion. On 30 June r940 the Luft- 
waffe had 84r serviceable bombers and rather over seven hundred fighters 
against a similar number of RAF fighters; the latter, Milch knew, were being 
replenished at over four hundred a month — over twice as fast as the produc- 
tion of the sole German single-engined fighter, the Me ro9. 3 This made non- 
sense of any policy of conservation on the part of the Luftwaffe. Yet such a pol- 
icy instruction was issued 4 while the German armies ostentatiously regrouped 
on the Channel coast and hundreds of ships, barges and boats were massed in 
full view for an invasion of southern England — an invasion which Jodi antici- 
pated would not take place before early September, and even then only as the 
coup de grace for a Britain with her economy paralysed and her air force beaten, 
‘should such a coup still be necessary’. 

For the first three weeks in July this directive effectively tied the Luft- 
waffe’s own hands, permitting them to execute only harassing raids in addition 
to an anti-shipping campaign. Under Kesselring and Sperrle the Second and 
Third Air Forces, with a common boundary on the River Seine, were allocated 
spheres of operations in western and eastern England respectively; eventually 
the Fifth Air Force (Stumpff) would take in northern England from Norwegian 
airfields. There was one organizational innovation, the introduction of two tac- 
tical fighter commanders on the ground, Jagdfliegerfuhrer 2, subordinated to the 



Second Air Force, and Jagdfliegerfuhrer 3 to the Third. 5 These controlled re- 
spectively 460 single- and 90 twin-engined fighters, and 300 single- and 130 
twin-engined fighters. Their disadvantage over the comparable RAF Fighter 
Groups was that these improvised Jafus could not plot the enemy squadrons’ 
movements; nor had any provision been made for them to control their fighter 
squadrons by radio telephone once they had left the ground. Not surprisingly, 
Goring asked Kesselring and Sperrle ‘to inform him how they envisaged con- 
trolling their fighter escort squadrons’, and stated the need for ‘information 
centres for the Air Corps during our attacks, so that we keep a clear picture of 
what the enemy’s up to’; these centres were to work in close cooperation with 
their wireless monitoring service.* 6 These technical shortcomings came to 
Milch’s attention only after the Battle of Britain had begun. 

Initially Hitler had been thinking of an invasion of Britain in mid-August. The 
orders issued by the Luftwaffe operations staff in mid-July set out their twin 
objectives in the ‘final phase’ before the invasion as the destruction of Britain’s 
air force and the disruption of her supplies by attacks on her ports and ship- 
ping. To this latter end the Fourth Air Corps was transferred to north-west 
France, to tread on Britain’s corns — her shipping lanes. The Eighth Air Corps 
(von Richthofen’s dive-bombers) was assigned to closing the English Channel 
by day, and other units were to attack Britain’s shipping and close her ports 
with minefields by night. 

The former objective, the attack on the RAF, would be completed in two 
stages. First the fighter defences and defence organization in southern England 
only would be annihilated; then daylight operations would roll northward until 
complete air supremacy had been achieved, while at the same time a comple- 
mentary assault on the British aircraft industry would take place. From ‘Eagle 
Day’, the initial day of this second phase, four weeks would probably elapse to 
the day on which an invasion could take place; and ‘Eagle Day’ itself could come 

* Milch demanded radio communication between ground controllers and fighter pilots, and 
escort fighters and bombers, back in 1934. In September 1943 he reflected, ‘I never found out why 
our bombers were unable to communicate with their escort bghters in the attacks on Britain.’ 



as soon as four days after the start of this intensive campaign. So much for the 
Luftwaffe plan; there is no evidence that Milch disputed it. 

On 16 July Hitler issued a directive for the planning of an invasion ‘if it 
should prove necessary’; on the seventeenth the Luftwaffe squadrons were 
placed on maximum readiness, and a crescendo of attacks on the supply lines 
began as part of the softening up. On the nineteenth Hitler issued an open ap- 
peal to the British, which was rejected on the twenty-second. Hitler believed 
that Britain’s otherwise inexplicable attitude could be attributed to her hopes of 
a change of heart in currently isolationist America, and a change of alliance in 
Russia. 7 In a conference with Jeschonnek and the army and navy C-in-Cs on 
the twenty- first, he described an invasion threat as the best means of forcing 
Britain to see reason, and he asked them to discover whether such an invasion 
could be executed by 15 September — the last possible date, it seemed, for rea- 
sons of tide and weather. The navy at once indicated that they could commence 
‘practical preliminaries’ only when the Luftwaffe had secured air supremacy. 

On the same day, 21 July, Goring called all his senior commanders and Air 
Staff officers to Karinhall for a luncheon and conference. Goring predicted that 
the current interim series of scattered night attacks on ports and the British 
aircraft industry would be replaced by the ‘final phase’ starting in a week’s time. 
In the meantime he asked for more determined attacks on Britain’s shipping 
and ports. He wanted to see the ‘convoys swept up, starting with the merchant 
ships’, and extensive mine-laying operations to block the western approaches, 
camouflaged by simultaneous bombing attacks on nearby ports. When the main 
attack on land targets began, these would be ‘violent attacks to unsettle the 
whole country’. The bombers were to drop bombs fitted with anti-disturbance 
and time fuses set for several hours’ delay. Primary targets like the ports of the 
south coast were to be spared from attack as yet, ‘particularly the unloading 
facilities in the ports along the coast from the Isle of Wight to the south-eastern 
corner’ — for this was where in September Germany would need unloading 
facilities the most. 8 

Before they left Karinhall, both of the Luftflotte commanders in France 
were asked to submit to Goring within one week their own views on achieving 
air supremacy. Goring himself believed that this could be achieved only by de- 



stroying the RAF and its supporting aero-engine industry — an industry the 
enemy would be forced to defend. The theory was that the RAF’s fighter 
squadrons would be hammered on the anvil of swarms of superior Me 109s and 
Me 110s escorting the bombers. The selection of the British aero-engine factories 
was a significant reflection of the most vulnerable target system in the Luft- 
waffe’s industrial base. As to their tactics, Goring suggested they make these 
factories the target for ‘nuisance raids’ by night at once: ‘Leave the enemy in 
constant doubt as to time and place,’ he suggested, ‘so that he cannot concen- 
trate his defences.’ In fact these crucial factories were beyond the range of the 
Me 109 escorts, and there were far too few of the heavier Me 110s for such a 

A number of points must be borne in mind before the narrative of the battle 
commences. Firstly, Hitler had not yet decided on an invasion at all. (As late as 
31 July he advised the other C-in-Cs that he would decide between the alterna- 
tives, September 1940 and May 1941, only after a week’s trial of the Luftwaffe’s 
main attack. 9 ) Secondly, until mid-September Hitler refused to authorize any 
kind of attack on London’s inhabitants, and this in General Jeschonnek’s view 
seriously blunted the edge of the Luftwaffe’s weapon. Thirdly, Goring had 
based his undertakings about the length of time needed to destroy the RAF on a 
number of assumptions which were to prove very wrong indeed. 

It was only now, for example, as the attack began, that the Germans real- 
ized from intercepted wireless orders that the RAF fighter squadrons were ra- 
dar-controlled from the ground; and it was only now that Goring discovered 
that the Me 110 twin-engined fighter (of which he had no fewer than two hun- 
dred) was useless as a daylight escort for the bomber forces since it was inferior 
to the agile Spitfire and Hurricane. But the Me 109 single-engined fighter could 
barely reach London and Milch’s early recommendation, made many months 
before, that cheap drop tanks should be fitted to extend the Me 109’s fuel en- 
durance had been followed up too late, with the result that the crews were un- 
trained in their use and reluctant to employ them. 

This was a very late hour to make such discoveries. The battle could not 
be called off, but its tactics should have been amended to allow the Luftwaffe a 



task of which it was capable. The objectives remained the same, however; in the 
Fiihrer’s directive of 1 August the force’s objective was still ‘to subdue the Brit- 
ish air force’, followed by attacks on the air industry and anti-aircraft gun pro- 
duction. Hitler still prohibited ‘terror raids as reprisals’, and London was still a 
prohibited area . 10 With hindsight, it can be seen that in this first phase the 
Luftwaffe should have concentrated on destroying the fighters’ radar and 
ground-control organization, but only the general strategic objectives were 
reflected in the directive issued to the Luftflotten on 2 August . 11 

Hitherto the Germans had sent short-range fighter squadrons in strength over 
southern England to lure the RAF into a battle in which they would be out- 
numbered: recognizing that this was the tactic, the British fighter commanders 
wisely refused to accept battle unless actual bomber attacks were in progress. 
Subsequently the Luftwaffe had sent small formations of bombers, heavily es- 
corted by fighters, to provoke the defences by harassing ports and shipping. It 
was soon obvious that the RAF’s losses were not of such a rate as to weaken 
Fighter Command enough for the ‘second phase’ of the attack, the rolling- up 
of the defences north of southern England. All this time the British air industry 
was producing fighter aircraft at twice the German industry’s rate. 

Nevertheless, Goring launched the second phase with ‘Eagle Day’, a day 
for which he worked out a precise plan of attacks. The details were dispensed to 
Milch and the three Luftflotte commanders (Stumpff having been brought in 
from Norway) at Karinhall at noon on 6 August: in the new offensive, heavily 
escorted bomber formations would attack the ‘vicinity of London’ in broad 
daylight, as a tactic to overpower the fighter defences . 12 London itself would 
not be touched. If during the first days of this new phase the German losses 
proved too high, or the returns in RAF losses too uncertain, then Goring was 
ready to call the whole operation off. ‘Eagle Day’, the start of the full air assault 
on the RAF, would be 10 August, Goring announced. This would be consistent 
with a final invasion in mid-September. 

For three days bad weather prevented the Luftwaffe from opening the 
assault. On 11 August Goring promised Hitler he would begin as soon as he had 
a forecast of three days’ fine weather; and on the afternoon of the twelfth he 



announced ‘Eagle Day’ for next day. 13 Since effectively it was to be a duel be- 
tween fighter forces, the opposing sides were quite evenly matched in numbers: 
the Luftwaffe disposed of 702 single-engined fighters on ro August (with an 
additional 227 twin-engined Me 110s, which were soon taken out of the battle); 
the RAF commanded a force of 749, mostly single-engined Hurricanes and 
Spitfires, being replenished at considerable speed (490 had been manufactured 
during July alone). The Luftwaffe also disposed of 875 serviceable bombers and 
316 dive-bombers. 14 

The attack opened early on 13 August, but went off at a tangent, since 
Goring ordered the recall of the entire Second Air Force as the weather wors- 
ened: ‘Grand slam opens with only Third Air Force because of weather,’ Milch 
recorded. 15 Nearly five hundred bomber sorties, with twice as many fighters as 
escorts, were made against airfields and fighter defences in southern England, 
however, and fierce air battles developed. Two days later the Fifth Air Force 
joined in with diversionary attacks against northern England. Far from herald- 
ing the final defeat of the RAF, the offensive brought mounting German losses: 
on the thirteenth the Luftwaffe lost forty-five aircraft, for thirteen RAF fighters 
(six of the RAF pilots survived to fight again); on the fourteenth the Germans 
lost nineteen, the RAF only eight (the Luftwaffe claimed eighteen). 

It was obvious to Goring that no real headway was being made. At noon 
on the fifteenth he called his three Luftflotte commanders back to Karinhall, 
together with Milch and Jeschonnek, to express his dissatisfaction with the 
Luftflotte commanders’ tactics and achievements. 16 He mentioned many techni- 
cal shortcomings: there were not enough He 59 ambulance floatplanes; the 
fighters were refusing to use the drop tanks unless they were armour-plated; 
and most important of all: ‘How can we establish radio-telephone contact be- 
tween the bombers and their fighter escort?’ he asked. Goring now accepted 
that the Me 110s were inadequate when confronted with Spitfires and Hurri- 
canes, and that they must be withdrawn from the battle. He also suggested that 
they should treat the British radar stations only as ‘alternative targets’. The ra- 
dio-beam squadron, K.Gr 100, might be used to attack the aircraft industry at 
Birmingham, he proposed; but he warned, ‘Cities as such are not to be attacked 
yet — particularly not London.’ 



That day the RAF lost only thirty- four aircraft compared with the Luft- 
waffe’s seventy-five. Within three days what should have been the Luftwaffe’s 
hour of triumph was instead the beginning of a rout: during 16 August all three 
air forces had operated, losing forty- five aircraft, while the RAF lost only 
twenty-one (the Luftwaffe claimed 108). 17 In extensive operations on the eight- 
eenth the dive-bombers mislaid their escort and were almost annihilated: sev- 
enty-one Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed, compared with twenty-seven RAF 
fighters. On the nineteenth bad weather brought the offensive to a standstill, 
with the objective even further away than when it had started. 

Goring summoned a new meeting of every commander down to squadron level 
on 19 August, to tell them of his disappointment at the fighters’ performance 
and to explain their new strategy: for the time being, the costly daylight attacks 
on aircraft factories and similar targets must be replaced by night attacks. 
Henceforth major daylight operations would aim only at provoking fighter 
battles, with just enough bombers provided to act as bait. The campaign against 
fighter airfields would continue, but the more vulnerable aircraft like the Ju 87s 
and the Me 110s were to be held in reserve until the ‘grand slam’ which would 
spell the RAF’s final defeat: ‘The main task of the twin-engined aircraft will 
come when the fighters reach the limit of their range.’ In bad weather they 
would attack targets like Norwich, but ‘primarily RAF targets’, to force the 
fighter defences to come up. When the weather improved they were to destroy 
the RAF fighters in the air by Schwerpunkt formation: all single-engined 
fighters of both Luftflotten should escort the bombers of one Luftflotte, followed 
up by the twin-engined fighters as a last wave of reinforcements. 

Goring angrily appealed to the fighter pilots for a sense of responsibility: 
‘Neither type of fighter is allowed to break off its escort mission because of 
weather,’ he instructed, and warned that any pilot found guilty of this misde- 
meanour would face a court martial — a sure indication of the increasing nerv- 
ousness of the bomber pilots. He ordered the bombers to keep ‘grimly in for- 
mation’ to give the escorts a chance of doing their job. He also recommended 
that each bomber formation should always have the same escort squadron, and 
that the respective commanders should get to know each other, in order to cul- 



tivate a personal sense of responsibility. (In the event, the rigid binding of the 
fast fighters to slow, lumbering bombers gave the RAF just the edge it needed 
over the Luftwaffe.) 

Mass attacks on cities, as opposed to nuisance attacks, were still forbidden. 
But to give credibility to the diversionary attacks from Norwegian airfields, 
Goring authorized General Geisler’s Tenth Air Corps to make a heavy attack on 
the Glasgow city area in the far north. Nuisance raids on British industry were 
to continue, ‘but not yet on London’. The primary object was still to induce the 
RAF to offer battle on the Luftwaffe’s terms. 18 

The Germans believed that the RAF had managed to stock up about 350 
fighters, assisted by the bad weather respite, after being down to their ‘last hun- 
dred’. (In fact on 23 August the RAF had over 700 fighter aircraft serviceable.) 
When the weather lifted and the Luftwaffe were able to resume the offensive on 
the twenty-third, an important second phase of the RAF’s defence also began: 
recognizing that the Germans lacked a long-range escort fighter the British had 
withdrawn their southern fighter squadrons to airfields around London where 
the Me 109 would be at the limit of its fuel endurance. To the Germans, the 
only way to destroy what seemed an importunate few was to provoke them en 
masse ( Schwerpunkt formation) and that seemed to indicate daylight attacks on 
London itself. 

On 25 August the RAF bombed Berlin (after one flight of Luftwaffe air- 
craft had strayed over London, killing nine civilians there). Within the next ten 
days four more RAF attacks were aimed at Berlin. This was what Hitler had 
hoped to avoid; on 4 September he warned, ‘If they continue to attack our cit- 
ies, then we will wipe out theirs.’ 

Of the Luftwaffe commanders it was General Jeschonnek who expected most 
from mass daylight attacks on London. 19 Goring challenged him, after dinner 
in his dining car, ‘Do you think that Germany would give in if Berlin were in 
ruins?’ ‘Of course not,’ replied Jeschonnek. He clearly assumed that British ci- 
vilian morale was more fragile than German. ‘That,’ concluded Goring, ‘is 
where you are wrong.’ 20 Not for the last time he showed that he assessed the 



true position more accurately than he was prepared to admit to Hitler. 

Milch had begun an extended series of inspection trips on 20 August and these 
spread over several weeks. Travelling by fast plane or black Mercedes saloon he 
sprung himself on fighter and bomber commanders without warning, checking 
squadron morale and equipment performance, testing their camouflage and 
watching their operations. ‘If the last war taught us how to dig in, this war has 
taught us camouflage,’ he reported to Goring on 26 August. 21 Page after page 
of a green 1936 ‘Collins Paragon Diary’ he filled with notes — complaints about 
medals, tactics, guns, ammunition, aircraft and engines; he prodded the reluc- 
tant with his interim baton and rewarded the brave with decorations or boxes of 
Brazilian cigars. 22 

The taut morale of the highly-disciplined Luftwaffe squadrons was still 
largely intact, but some of them, particularly the Stuka and Me 110 squadrons, 
were showing signs of strain. The Me 110’s depth of penetration was only about 
160 miles and allowed only fifteen or twenty minutes’ combat endurance on top 
of that. All the fighter squadrons he inspected favoured freelance fighter op- 
erations rather than the murderous close-formation escort work. ‘It is unfortu- 
nate for close cooperation between fighter and bomber squadrons,’ he reported 
to Goring afterward, ‘that the units escorting the bombers are constantly 
changed; two squadrons consistently working together and able to discuss their 
missions in person with each other beforehand are far more likely to be suc- 

After Luftflotte 2, Milch turned his attention to Field Marshal Sperrle’s 
Luftflotte 3. Since 27 August it had been principally engaged in night attacks, 
including four heavy raids on Liverpool and Birkenhead mounted at a cost of 
only seven bombers. 23 When he flew back to Berlin on 3 September he saw Hit- 
ler, who had also hurried back to the capital as soon as the RAF attacks began. 
Hitler asked him to increase the output of 2,200-pound bombs — a sure indica- 
tion that the air war was now to turn to Britain’s cities. 24 

On the same day Hitler removed his embargo on night attacks on Eng- 
land, in view of Sperrle’s success, but London itself was still a prohibited area. 
The Luftwaffe now accepted that, despite the desperate air battles that had 



taken place, the RAF still had about 420 serviceable fighters left. 25 Hitler recog- 
nized that the requirement for the invasion of England (‘achievement of air 
supremacy’) had still not been met, but was withholding the final order for the 
present until he saw the results of the continued attack on the RAF. 26 The earli- 
est possible date for the preliminary invasion order was understood to be 2r 

During August the RAF had lost 359 fighter aircraft and the German air force 
653; the Luftwaffe believed that their victories were very much more substantial. 
Their recent tactics of concentrating some effort on the fighter airfields were 
indeed proving an embarrassment to the RAF. On r September the German 
squadrons for the first time reported a weakening in the defences, and on the 
sixth the OKW was told that average RAF fighter squadron strength had sunk 
from twelve to only five or seven aircraft. 27 It was now — stimulated by another 
raid on Berlin — that Hitler ordered the attack on London to begin at last, and 
with the abandonment of the attack on the fighter airfields in southern Eng- 
land the Battle of Britain passed its turning-point. 

Goring had already informed Milch that to exert a greater influence on 
the battle he was going to Holland on 6 September and Ghent on the seventh, 
and that he intended to stay in the west for about two weeks, directing the bat- 
tle. (Milch was to deputize for him in Berlin.) Now that the final assault on 
London itself was to begin, Goring told the German nation by wireless, ‘I myself 
have taken command of the Luftwaffe’s battle for Britain.’ By attacking London 
by day he hoped to force the British to sacrifice ‘the tiny remainder of their 

On the night of 5 September, as Milch was relaxing in Berlin after a day’s 
hunting and drinking with Udet, Kesselring’s bomber squadrons carried out 
their first attack on London’s dockland. On 7 September, as Goring stood with 
Kesselring and Bruno Loerzer, one of the Air Corps commanders, on the cliffs 
at Cap Blanc Nez, training binoculars on the English coast, wave after wave of 
aircraft — three hundred bombers and six hundred fighters — thundered 
northward in tight formation toward London. All afternoon and all night long 
the attack on docks and oil targets along the Thames continued. Twenty-three 



RAF fighter squadrons were thrown into the battle, but the victory was with 
Goring that day, even though the Luftwaffe lost forty aircraft to the RAF’s 

For Hitler these results were still too uncertain to justify issuing the pre- 
liminary order for the invasion. 28 The most favourable date, 24 September, was 
barely two weeks away, and since the planning called for ten days’ notice he 
must make up his mind on the fourteenth. Twice in mid-September, on the 
thirteenth and fourteenth, Hitler called Milch to hear his deliberations on in- 
vasion, since Goring was still directing the battle in the west. 29 Milch took a 
lengthy note of the Fuhrer’s remarks on the fourteenth. They began with a 
survey of Germany’s strategic position, in which Hitler’s disquiet about Russia’s 
intentions was evident. Moscow was obviously dissatisfied with events, having 
hoped that the Reich would bleed herself to death, and was now turning its 
attention to Rumania and Finland. Germany needed Rumania for oil and Fin- 
land for the balance of power in the Baltic. Hitler hinted at the possibility of 
‘new conflicts’, but he was inclined to view them with equanimity: ‘We have 
attained our objectives already,’ he told his commanders on the fourteenth. 
‘That is why we have no interest in dragging this war on.’ 

The question was, how to write the final chapter. Hitler now saw an inva- 
sion of Britain as a means of accelerating the end, rather than as an end in itself. 
The navy was ready, it seemed, while in its fight for air supremacy the Luftwaffe 
had achieved the near impossible. Goring had always warned that he needed 
several consecutive days of fine weather to destroy the RAF, and this had been 
denied him. The RAF had recuperated. Nobody knew how many fighter air- 
craft the British still had, but they must have ‘suffered badly’. The brutal truth 
was that air supremacy had not been achieved. ‘Should we call it off altogether?’ 
Hitler asked. He answered this question himself: their earlier option of a con- 
ventional invasion with massive air superiority had been thwarted; so he now 
intended to try an alternative method, which was less certain, but also less 
harmful to prestige than a total cancellation of the invasion — a war of nerves, 
supported by crushing air attack and the persisting threat of seaborne invasion. 
‘Our attacks so far have already been enormously successful,’ he pointed out. 
Such a war of nerves would force the RAF to reserve bombers to combat an in- 



vasion; this would take the pressure off Germany. And the bombing of London 
alone might bring about the final collapse. ‘If eight million people go mad, it 
might very well turn into a catastrophe! If we get the fine weather, and we can 
eliminate the enemy’s air force, then even a small invasion might go a long way.’ 
Therefore he was against cancelling invasion preparations altogether. ‘The can- 
cellation would come to the ears of the enemy and would strengthen his re- 
solve .’ 30 

Milch (seen above with Goring and his chief of intelligence, 
Colonel ‘Beppo’ Schmid) took notes on everything. 
(milch collection) 

Milch recognized that neither army nor navy was enthusiastic about the inva- 
sion. Jeschonnek suggested that the Luftwaffe had now brought about a grave 
food shortage in England and asserted that ‘the British public have still not 
been hit’ in such a way as to cause real panic. (In fact, in the first half of Sep- 
tember alone two thousand London civilians had been killed in the bombing.) 
Hitler still refused to authorize attacks on London’s residential areas, but agreed 
to consider such a policy in future: ‘You see, it is our ultimate reprisal. That’s 
why we have to keep to military targets for the time being.’ By these he meant 



London’s stations, water, gas and other public utility works and similar targets. 
‘That’s why we can’t attack the public.’* 

The next day’s air operations proved that German air supremacy was still 
a ghostly chimera. On 15 September the biggest raiding force yet — both 
Luftflotten — was sent to raid targets in London, still defended by three hun- 
dred RAF fighters; sixty German aircraft were destroyed for twenty-six RAF 
losses. Next day at a conference in Goring’s train near Beauvais in France 
Goring fulminated about the failure of his own fighter escorts, while Milch 
stoutly defended them. The source of the RAF’s strength was a mystery. As- 
suming that on 8 September the British had had 465 fighters (three-quarters of 
them serviceable), and allowing for the 288 claimed destroyed since then, the 
RAF could not have more than 177 left to defend the whole of Britain. Goring 
believed the last British reserves to have been scraped together. 31 That the RAF’s 
real shortage was of trained pilots, not aircraft, was not considered. 32 

Goring ordered that the night attacks on London were to continue, with 
both Luftflotten, on every possible occasion; Sperrle’s bombers were also to at- 
tack Southampton by day, while Kesselring — to whom most of the fighters had 
now been transferred — should engage the RAF’s fighter force. Goring men- 
tioned that there was evidence that British pilots had been encouraged to ram 
the German bombers, so harsh was their position now. He proposed a new tac- 
tic to destroy the remaining fighters: they should operate formations of up to 
thirty Ju 88 fast bombers three times a day over Britain, with very heavy fighter 
escort. Given three consecutive fine days, the ensuing air battles would so de- 
plete the RAF defences that the main force of bombers could again operate at 
will. In the meantime, London’s night ordeal was beginning with a vengeance, 
for at night there was little the defences could do to stop the bombers. 

On 17 September 1940 Hitler decided on the indefinite postponement of the 
invasion. 33 In effect, the Luftwaffe had borne the fighting alone since July, while 

* From the lengthy notes taken by Milch during Hitler’s conference. Broadly similar versions 
will be found in the diaries of Haider and the German naval staff (14 September 1940). Keitel’s 
version is in Nuremberg document 803-PS. 



the other services had relaxed, refitted and regrouped. Now it was the Luftwaffe 
at whose door the blame was laid. Much of the blame is in fact Hitler’s: the 
campaign should have been started earlier, when fine weather still prevailed and 
the RAF defences were still weak, and the Luftwaffe regarded themselves as 
hampered by Hitler’s prohibition against mass attacks on the London popula- 
tion. As it was, mid-September 1940 found the Luftwaffe still searching for a 
strategy, with the bomber and fighter arms engaged in growing recrimination 
against each other. 

Goring’s new daylight strategy of small fast Ju 88 formations, escorted by 
sometimes ten times as many fighters, came into operation on 27 September; on 
other occasions single fighter-bombers operated singly over London and south- 
ern England. It was all very different from the mass attacks envisaged as a prel- 
ude to invasion. Early in October 1940 Goring seized the excuse of deteriorating 
weather to call off daylight operations over Britain; all hope of destroying RAF’s 
fighters in the air receded. 

Above all, the Luftwaffe’s equipment had proved inadequate. As Director of Air 
Armament Udet felt, not without reason, that the finger of guilt was pointing at 
his office. He stayed away from Goring’s conferences and cracked wan jokes 
with his friends about the future. His friends shielded him, while his rivals 
multiplied. 34 Whispers of the coming technical deficiencies reached Goring. 
One day that autumn when he was walking in the woods near Beauvais, Major 
Storp, an experienced squadron commander, shocked him with a gloomy pre- 
diction of things to come. 35 ‘The time will come when you witness a situation 
which seems unimaginable to you now,’ the major warned, and he related de- 
tails of the negligence of Udet’s senior advisers. Of one aero-engine project, 
probably the Daimler-Benz 603, Storp prophesied: ‘You won’t ever get it. You 
could, and it should have been in service long ago; but if you don’t act now you 
still won’t have it three years from now.’ Goring did not act, and he was to re- 
call this conversation ruefully to Milch three years later when the predictions 
were fulfilled. 36 

The controversial Junkers 88 high-speed bomber, on which Udet and 
Jeschonnek had set great store, was the most problematic of Udet’s proteges. 



Erhard Milch was torn between two conflicting duties: he was a long-standing 
friend of Udet, but he was also Inspector-General, and profoundly patriotic. 
Throughout the summer of 1940 he collected the squadron’s complaints against 
the Ju 88: it was slower than the obsolescent He 111, its dinghy could not be re- 
leased in an emergency, there were insufficient Ju 88 workshops, take-offs at 
night were difficult with full tanks, there had been frequent cases of Ju 88s 
catching fire in mid-air, and so on. Altogether he listed thirty-two complaints 
in a report to Goring; early in October the Reichsmarschall ordered him to tour 
the Ju 88 squadrons and report even more fully. 37 Milch’s report was a devas- 
tating indictment of the Ju 88 and its effect on squadron morale. In particular 
he concluded that its present armament was so inadequate that it could not be 
operated without fighter escort. Of one Ju 88 squadron’s twenty-six crews, only 
five were ready to continue flying, so badly had the aircraft affected crew mo- 
rale. Indeed General Loerzer’s Second Air Corps had sent a medical officer to 
examine the others, suspecting malingering. Milch’s scathing comment on this 
to Goring was, ‘It’s not the enemy the squadron’s frightened of — it’s the 
Junkers 88!’ 38 

These criticisms were tactfully laid before Junkers’s general manager, Dr 
Koppenberg. Goring told him the aircraft ‘has not fully come up to our expec- 
tations’, especially those concerning air safety. He reassured the industrialist of 
his confidence in him (‘these unseemly and carping critics get a deaf ear from 
me’) but hinted that perhaps they should be concentrating more on the old He 
111 under present war conditions. Koppenberg for his part talked of the Ju 88 
Mark A4 now coming off the production lines, which was indeed a commend- 
able improvement, and he described the new generation of bombers, particu- 
larly the Ju 288, powered by the revolutionary new engine, the Jumo 222, com- 
ing in 1942. 39 A high-altitude, high-speed bomber, with internal bomb racks 
and a dive-bomber capability, it would carry five tons of bombs over 1,250 miles 
or two tons over 3,100 miles; with its pressurized cockpit it would have a service 
ceiling of some 28,000 feet, extending to 38,000 feet once the engine had been 
fitted with special superchargers. From the way Koppenberg talked there 
seemed to be no problems with either the engine or the aircraft; but there were, 
and we must return to both in later chapters. 



Despite their official differences Milch encouraged Udet not to forget their 
personal friendship. In Paris they joined forces on shopping expeditions to 
Cartier; in Berlin they shared a table at Horcher’s at least half a dozen times that 
autumn. 40 But the general’s condition over the last few weeks had been wors- 
ening rapidly, and it pained Milch to see how little he was applying himself to 
his duties. Udet was drinking and smoking to excess, and eating only meat. 41 He 
was also relying extensively on a narcotic to overcome his growing depression 
and the chosen drug, ‘Pervitin’, brought after-effects which made him morose 
and suspicious. 

A week after reporting to Goring on the Ju 88 Milch took the opportu- 
nity of a Sunday afternoon stroll near Karinhall to have a long fatherly talk with 
Udet about the aircraft. 42 This unrelenting pressure only intensified Udet’s 
suspicions. Two days later, his constitution weakened by his unhealthy mode of 
life, he was taken ill, and Milch committed him to the care of his personal phy- 
sician Professor Kalk; but within a week the ailing general had discharged him- 
self from hospital, fearing, as he told his friends, that Milch was exploiting his 
absence to trespass on his office. 43 And yet it was possible for this strange, 
schizophrenic general to sit at Milch’s favourite table at Horcher’s not long af- 
ter, as though there was not a single source of disaffection between them. 44 

The German public’s retina still retained the image Goring had offered in his 
radio broadcasts at the time of the mass daylight attacks on London — the 
Reichsmarschall, striding the Channel coast, personally directing the battle. 
Indeed so pleased was Goring with this image that once his signals officer sur- 
prised him in his Ritz suite in Paris (the hotel was largely populated by the 
Luftwaffe), dressed only in a blue silk dressing-gown, describing by telephone 
to his wife how at that moment he was on the cliffs at Calais while his squadrons 
thundered overhead to England. 45 

The reality was different. Since mid-September the air force had appeared 
in strength over England only by night, and a further complication of this un- 
expectedly continuing war was that Germany would now have to provide a 
realistic air defence against British bombing raids. On the night of 23 September 



1940 over a hundred RAF medium bombers attacked Berlin and twenty-two 
civilians died. At the beginning of October Milch inspected the brst squadrons 
of the night-fighter organization established under Colonel Josef Kammhuber 
in Holland; at a staff conference on the third Goring called for better flak for 
Berlin, a swifter air-raid alert system, stronger shelters and more decoy sites. 46 

October marked the beginning of the long war between German concrete 
and British bombs. The Reichsmarschall decided to put Milch in charge of civil 
defence again. It had been his province long before — the instruction posters 
pinned up in every basement bore Milch’s signature — but it had been taken 
away from him before war broke out. Now that the damage was beginning, In- 
spectorate No. 14 (Air Defence) was returned to him. 47 

The Germans were beginning to experience the costly inconvenience they 
had hoped to inflict only on their enemies. Thousands of children had to be 
evacuated from the big cities; hospitals, factories, schools — all had to have spe- 
cial air-raid warning systems; millions of homes throughout the country had to 
have shelters; hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete and steel were needed 
for public shelters. All this was discussed by Goring and Milch on 12 October. 
Udet was told admonishingly that the only long-term answer was to build more 
aircraft; these were ‘far more important than air-raid shelters’. 48 The wisdom of 
this is obvious from Milch’s notes — they would need two hundred thousand 
workers and four thousand lorries for the Berlin shelter programme alone. 49 
On the fifteenth Milch had a long private talk with Hitler on the psychology of 
air-raid alerts. 50 

The state secretary remained responsible for passive air defence measures 
until 1942, when the Reich Propaganda Minister Dr Goebbels was nominally 
put in charge, ‘which led,’ wrote Milch, ‘only to an improvement in the propa- 
ganda about what had been done.’ In 1944 the task was transferred to Speer’s 
Armaments Ministry and all public shelter construction came to a halt. 51 

With the failure of the Battle of Britain Goring lost interest in the war. At a 
conference at Deauville on the last day of October 1940 he mentioned casually 
to Milch that soon he planned to take six weeks’ leave; the state secretary was to 
stand in for him. 52 At headquarters a few days later Hitler for the first time 



openly criticized Goring over the Luftwaffe’s failure, which was having wide- 
spread repercussions in foreign policy. Citing foreign press reports he queried 
the success of the raids on Britain and spoke sceptically of the Luftwaffe’s claims 
of great air victories. Goring was saved by General Jodi, who said he also be- 
lieved that the RAF was at its last gasp — it must have thrown its last aircraft, 
piloted by a handful of training officers and the squadron commanders them- 
selves, into the battle. 53 

Milch had warned long ago that the current series of night attacks was 
useless without special radio-beam devices, like the new X-equipment. (A radio 
receiver in the bombers followed a main beam laid over the target, and was 
alerted by two cross beams a set distance from each other and from the target.) 
It was all too easy to bomb British decoy sites, since most bomber crews were 
happy to release their loads somewhere between the searchlights, whether they 
saw a target or not: ‘On dark nights only the largest targets can be effectively 
found; in my view the effect on all other targets is about a fifth of a daylight 
attack.’ 54 Milch recommended that the special radio-beam squadron, 
Kampfgruppe 100, should receive priority in personnel and aircraft. He advised 
Goring that if radio-beam techniques should prove satisfactory then they could 
attack even on the darkest nights, or through cloud, or they could fly with ac- 
curacy by day to the neighbourhood of the smallest targets. 

On 14 November Goring called Milch over to Karinhall and formally 
handed over command of the Luftwaffe to him; he then departed on leave to 
his hunting lodge on Rominten Heath in East Prussia. 55 He did not resume 
command until late January 1941, although he was never far from his telephone. 
His departure coincided with one of the most destructive Luftwaffe attacks of 
the war: 450 bombers attacked Coventry, spearheaded by a fire-raising force 
from Kampfgruppe 100 using X-equipment for the first time. 

Field Marshal Milch’s arrival at ‘Robinson 1’ — the Air Staff s headquarters at La 
Boissiere-le-Deluge, near Beauvais — caused something of a crisis. 

General Jeschonnek waited for Milch to arrive, then ostentatiously de- 
parted to join the Reichsmarschall at his hunting lodge, leaving his deputy with 
Milch; the latter, von Waldau, found the newcomer easier to accept than the 



situation caused by Goring’s departure. ‘About our commanders I have my 
own views,’ Waldau wrote, ‘and these lead me increasingly to the view that the 
end is not in sight. We must clench our teeth.’ In the afternoon he added, 
‘Jeschonnek still in Berlin. Thus there is much to be done — and done inde- 
pendently in default of the Reichsmarschall .’ 56 

Goring had withdrawn his special train Asia to Rominten as well, and 
with it had vanished Milch’s coach. Since there was no question of his occupy- 
ing Jeschonnek’s train, his staff assembled a special train of sorts at the Gare St 
Lazare in Paris: it was put together from Marshal Petain’s dining car of the First 
World War, which included an opulent bathroom and a dining room uphol- 
stered in corduroy and green baize; the dining car of President Lebrun’s special 
train with two of his best chefs; and several less august items of rolling stock. 
The heating system was so erratic that while the adjutant’s room was perma- 
nently filled with metallic knocking, steam and heat, at the other end of the 
train Arctic conditions reigned. From the temperate regions of the dining car 
Milch now conducted the air war against Britain’s cities while Goring — and, on 
one memorable occasion when Plymouth was the target, even his nurse Sister 
Christa — dictated orders down the telephone from Rominten. 

A second theatre of operations was now opening for the Luftwaffe. 

Late in October Mussolini — piqued by German military intervention in 
Rumania — had launched an attack on Greece. But his armies were already se- 
verely extended in North Africa and the new adventure brought him nothing 
but misfortune. The British occupied Crete, a key Mediterranean island from 
which RAF bombers were within range of the Rumanian oilfields. The Greeks 
launched a plucky counter-offensive and pursued the Italian invaders into Al- 
bania. Hitler decided to relieve the Italians by attacking the British forces in the 
Mediterranean; he sent for Milch to discuss means of doing so . 57 

Hitler explained that as a consequence of the Italian attack not only was 
Germany now obliged to provide flak for Rumania and south-eastern Ger- 
many, but the Italians themselves were in danger. The Luftwaffe should prepare 
to attack the Suez Canal and the Royal Navy’s bases both at Gibraltar and at 
Alexandria; meantime Milch was to go to Mussolini and explain how far the 



Luftwaffe could help him directly. The Italians should be given three clear ob- 
jectives — to hold their front line, to tie down the Greeks until the German 
army itself could intervene in the spring, and to improve their supply lines. 
Meantime the British should be demoralized by a number of heavy air raids on 
London, Liverpool and Manchester. Goring, meanwhile, continued his ex- 
tended leave at Rominten, jogging pleasantly from one hunting preserve to the 
next in his landau. 58 

The Luftwaffe proposed deploying what was virtually a Luftflotte in Italy, 
made up of Geisler’s Tenth Air Corps from Norway and a number of Ju 88, He 
in and mine-laying squadrons and a long-range fighter squadron. 59 While von 
Waldau directed these preparations — by January 1941 there was a force of 330 
first-line aircraft in this new Luftwaffe theatre — Milch returned to Air Staff 
headquarters in France to resume his direction of the night blitz against Britain. 
Since November it had been aimed generally at crippling the British industrial 
effort, spearheaded by Kampfgruppe 100, the Pathfinder squadron using the X- 
equipment, and another unit, KG 26, using the new Y-beam system whereby 
the bomber aircraft, carrying special repeater-transmitters, were precisely plot- 
ted even at great range by German ground stations and given course and 
bombing instructions by them. 

On balance the Luftwaffe was still winning this cruel war of the cities. 
Measured in terms of human life, compared with over fifteen thousand British 
dead by mid-November 1940, the entire six months of the RAF attack on Ger- 
many had so far killed only 975 Germans. Milch established to his own satisfac- 
tion that twice as many Germans had been killed in the same period in road 
accidents. 60 In Britain’s cities the ordeal was only just beginning — although the 
Luftwaffe aiming points (like the RAF’s at this stage) were invariably the large 
factories. Mixed loads of high explosive and fire bombs were scattered round 
them night after night, with the RAF night-fighter defences almost powerless to 
intervene, the necessary radar equipment still being under development. Brit- 
ain’s industrial centres were the hardest hit: on 11 December we see Sperrle re- 
porting to Milch on his night’s raid on Birmingham; on the twelfth we find 
Milch on the runway at Villacoublay watching a squadron of KG 55’s Heinkels 
taking off for the night’s attack on Sheffield. 61 On the fifteenth the Luftwaffe 



again attacked Sheffield, and next day the RAF delivered the war’s first ‘area 
attack’, with its aiming point the residential heart of Mannheim.* Five days later 
Milch himself witnessed the British attempt to raid Berlin, but it was a puny 
effort compared with the Luftwaffe’s spectacular fire raids. In three operations 
between then and Christmas Eve the Germans inflicted catastrophic damage on 
Manchester and Liverpool. But after this holocaust came respite. From the early 
morning of Christmas Eve, the Luftwaffe airfields were silent: on Hitler’s in- 
structions all air operations against the British Isles were prohibited during the 
Christmas festival . 1 

On Christmas Eve Hitler’s special train arrived alongside Air Staff head- 
quarters at Le Deluge, and early next morning Milch and Jeschonnek were or- 
dered to see the Ffihrer . 62 After the field marshal had reported on the Blitz 
word arrived that an emissary of the French president had arrived, so the dis- 
cussion had to end; but as Hitler accompanied his guests to the door of the 
compartment he mentioned for the first time to Milch his fears of a Russian 
campaign against Germany, and he hinted that he intended to get in an attack 
on Russia first. 

* As the official history, The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany 1939-1945, vol. 1, points out 
(p. 215), ‘It was not until after the German attack on Coventry that Bomber Command was 
deliberately given the centre of a town as its target. This, the first “area” attack of the war, was 
carried out against Mannheim on the night of 16th December 1940.’ 

t Milch’s diary, 26 December 1940: ‘At Robinson. From 24 to early 26 December no air attacks 
on Britain on Fiihrer’s orders.’ 





December 1940-June 1941 

when hitler mentioned to Milch in September 1940 that Moscow was ‘evi- 
dently dissatisfied’ with the way the war was going this was his first indication 
that there was an element of cynicism in the twelve-month-old pact with the 
Soviet Union. 

From the several conferences on German deliveries to Russia he had at- 
tended, Milch knew just what this pact had cost them. In addition to scarce 
equipment and machine tools, the navy was supposed to hand over the modern 
cruiser Liitzow and the Luftwaffe some of its most secret armament, including 
the new 105 -millimetre heavy flak battery. A Russian general had arrived to 
test-fly the Heinkel 100 record-breaking fighter prototype, and then that had 
been crated up for Russia too. The Russians were even demanding the blue- 
prints for every item they were given. In return they were supplying oil and 
raw materials to Germany. 1 

This cooperation ended after Germany’s staggering blitzkrieg victories 
over Norway and France. Goring later said, ‘The Soviet Union thereupon in- 
creased the scale of its own arms programme and redoubled its preparations in 
the territories it had newly occupied, particularly in the Baltic states, in eastern 
Poland and Bessarabia, where numerous airfields were constructed and troops 
were concentrated.’ 2 Luftwaffe experts who toured the Russian industrial re- 
gion reported to Goring that the aero-engine factories at Kuibyshev alone were 



bigger than Germany’s six main assembly factories. 3 None the less, when Hitler 
told him during the autumn that he would probably attack Russia, Goring ob- 
jected — on grounds of expediency rather than of morality. He argued that it 
would be strategically wrong to break off the air offensive against Britain now; 
furthermore, he considered that operations against Gibraltar, French North 
Africa, Malta or Suez rated more attention than opening up voluntarily such an 
immense new theatre. He believed the Russian rearmament programme would 
not be complete until 1943. 4 

The visit of the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov to Berlin in mid- 
November 1940 revealed to the Germans the edge of the abyss. From these con- 
versations Hitler realized that the ‘honeymoon’, as he termed it, was over. He 
had already ordered that preparations for a Russian campaign should continue 
without remission; now he tentatively set the date for mid-May 1941 — the date 
he had previously earmarked for the invasion of Britain. This new contingency 
was the subject of a select conference at the Air Ministry on 13 January 1941. 
Milch recorded in his diary only, ‘Afternoon, major conference with Goring, 
Jeschonnek, Bodenschatz re: the East.’ The same day Jeschonnek flew to his 
headquarters and briefed the Air Staff for the first time on the planning for 
‘Barbarossa’, the Russian campaign. 5 Two weeks later Goring’s special train re- 
turned and the Reichsmarschall resumed command, his two-month leave at an 
end. 6 His state secretary, Milch, now went on leave himself and it was in his ab- 
sence, on 20 February, that a special unit (like those earlier established for the 
campaigns in Spain and Norway) was set up at the Air Staff College under 
Colonel Lobel, to coordinate planning for ‘Barbarossa’. 7 

Milch went on leave and heard no more about Russia. On his return a bomb- 
shell burst: General Otto Riidel, Chief of Air Defence, who had been deputizing 
for him, appeared in his room at the ministry with an officer from the admini- 
stration department and inquired whether Milch approved the directive that 
no winter clothing be ordered for the new campaign. 

‘New campaign?’ Milch asked. Riidel explained, ‘The campaign in Russia.’ 
Milch leapt out of his chair, overcome with surprise. Visions of the eastern front 
— of the slaughter he had witnessed at Gumbinnen, Ossowiez and Raczki in the 



First World War — crossed before his eyes. ‘We have been ordered to prepare 
for a campaign against Russia,’ Riidel continued. ‘But it will all be over before 
winter sets in.’ Milch retorted, ‘Whoever said that must be mad.’ Riidel warned 
in some embarrassment, ‘It comes on very high authority.’ The field marshal 
replied that even so they must assume that any war with Russia would last at 
least four years, and that could mean four winters. 8 

The Air Staff, and in particular the Quartermaster-General, von Seidel, 
refused to accept responsibility for violating Hitler’s edict; but Milch knew no 
scruples, accepted full responsibility and personally ordered the manufacture of 
extra woollen underwear, five pairs of stockings, big fur boots and sheepskins 
for each of a million Luftwaffe men on the eastern front. He also ordered the 
urgent provision of winter equipment for the squadrons. The winter clothing 
was manufactured, as usual, by the army’s clothing office. There was no reason 
why the army could not have taken the same precautions for its own men, but 
to the General Staff, too, Hitler’s edict was law and only the sixty divisions 
foreseen for the army of occupation in a defeated Russia had been provided 
with special winter clothing by the time the campaign began. 9 When the terrible 
winter came the army suffered more casualties from frostbite than from action, 
and the Luftwaffe’s eight hundred thousand men were ordered by Hitler to 
relinquish some of their own winter clothing to the army. 10 

After the winter was over von Seidel accepted Goring’s congratulations. 
(‘We have been issuing winter orders and directives ever since 22 June r94i,’ he 
said — as though these could have any real effect by the coming winter. 11 The 
evidence is that the Air Staff did not itself issue such orders until late August.) 
Through Milch’s foresight the Luftwaffe was spared the worst. 

All this did not mean that he approved of the Russian campaign. He argued 
strongly against it, reminding Goring that the Ffihrer had so far avoided the 
perils of a war on two fronts; the formation of a western front must surely only 
be a matter of time, and sooner or later America would also enter the war, as was 
evident from the secret American arms production figures he regularly noted 
in his pocket-book. Goring answered that, since there could be no western front 
until 1942, the Ffihrer had a year to fight himself free in the rear. When Milch 



rejoined that he doubted that one summer campaign would suffice to finish off 
Russia, Goring reassured him, ‘If we strike hard enough, Russia will collapse like 
a pack of cards, because the communist system is despised by the masses in Rus- 
sia.’ The Fiihrer, he added, was a unique leader, granted to the German nation 
by Providence: ‘The rest of us, we lesser mortals, can only march behind him 
with complete faith in his ability. Then we cannot go wrong.’ 12 

The existence of a God and Providence was not disputed by Milch. None 
the less he appealed to Goring to try again to dissuade Hitler. ‘Herr 
Reichsmarschall — this is your great, historic hour. You must prevent this at- 
tack on Russia — you are the only one who is in a position to bring the Fiihrer 
round to accept your view. If you can prevent this war in the east, then you will 
have done your Fatherland the greatest service of your life.’ Goring replied that 
it was hopeless: ‘The Fiihrer has made up his mind. There is no power on earth 
that can change it for him now.’ 

Even now there was an unexpected series of interludes. At the end of March 
1941 Milch was committed to a one-week tour of Germany’s major towns to 
check on the progress of his air-raid defence programme. As he was flying to 
Hamburg news arrived in Berlin of an anti-German revolution in Belgrade. 
Hitler called his C-in-Cs to the Reich Chancery and announced his decision ‘to 
destroy Yugoslavia both as a military power and as a nation’. For some weeks he 
had been planning a lightning war in Greece to rescue the Italians; the attack on 
Yugoslavia would be synchronized with that on Greece, starting early on 6 
April. 13 

Milch was ordered back to Berlin with other senior generals to hear a 
fresh harangue from Hitler. For three hours Hitler argued that the western 
theatre — and that meant Britain — was still the vital one, but that an attack on 
the Balkans was now a regrettable prerequisite to the defeat of Britain. 14 Justi- 
fying his decision to attack Russia too, he stated that only by destroying the 
Soviet armed forces could Germany maintain her position in the air and on the 
seas in two years’ time. But he also spoke in unmistakable terms of his intention 
of destroying Bolshevism and all its panoply — ‘liquidating the Bolshevik com- 
missars and the communist intelligentsia’. 15 



Within ten days the Luftwaffe had completed its rapid regrouping for the 
Balkan campaign, about six hundred aircraft having been moved up from bases 
in France, Sicily and Africa and added to the five hundred German aircraft 
already in this new theatre. The offensive opened on 6 April with a heavy air 
attack on Yugoslav airfields and the capital: in Belgrade seventeen thousand 
people were killed and the government quarters paralysed within hours of the 
war breaking out. Yugoslavia was defeated within a week. 16 In Greece, despite 
the support of General von Richthofen’s Eighth Air Corps, the Germans met 
more determined opposition. Milch marvelled at the heroic resistance offered 
by the Greeks at the crossing of the Struma river. 17 On 21 April Greece too laid 
down her arms. It was to be the last occasion on which the Luftwaffe could claim 
an unqualified victory. 

General Rieckhoff, in the earliest postwar history of the Luftwaffe, wrote: ‘Of all 
the senior officers in the Reich Air Ministry there was nobody who saw the 
coming technical debacle and interpreted it better than the state secretary, 
Milch.’ 18 Because of the lack of adequate development control the new aircraft 
on which the Air Staff had been relying for 1941 were still not there; indeed 
those bearing the main burden — the Me 109, the Me no, the He 111, the Ju 52, 
the Ju 87, the Do 17 and the FW 200 — had all been developed in the pre-Udet 
era, before 1936. They had entered mass production only after completion of a 
three-year sequence of four preliminary stages. First had come the construction 
and design of the prototype, and then had come three carefully overlapped 
intermediate stages — test- flying, preparation for serial production and pilot 
series. Udet had attempted to concertina these three stages to cut a year off the 
total time; the mass production had begun before test-flying was complete, 
leading to repeated breakdowns and stopping of production. The Ju 88 had 
been the first casualty; now, in early 1941, several more became apparent — the 
Me 109F, the Me 210, the He 177 and the FW 190. 19 

After the Luftwaffe’s more experienced fighter commanders, Galland and 
Molders, had complained in the autumn of 1940 to Goring that the Me 109E 
was inferior to the Spitfire, Udet had told them about the Mark F, with its DB 
601E engine, which would arrive early in 1941 at the squadrons. By the spring, 



however, it was still not coming out of the Messerschmitt production plants. 

Far more serious was the case of the Me 210 twin-engined fighter-bomber. 
The Air Staff had asked Professor Messerschmitt to update the Me 110 by minor 
aerodynamic changes and by fitting a bigger power plant, the 1,900-horsepower 
Daimler-Benz 603. The revised aircraft was to carry better defensive armament 
and bombs up to 500 kilos on internal racks, as a dive-bomber. Udet’s intention 
was that the modifications should be made without interrupting the Me 110 
production schedule. Without informing him, however, Professor Messer- 
schmitt seized the opportunity of designing a completely new aircraft, the Me 
210; he did not seek to amend the delivery date, and the Air Staff believed the 
first one thousand would have been delivered by the spring of 1941. In view of 
the coming offensive, Jeschonnek attached great importance to this aircraft. 20 

By April 1941, however, not one Me 210 had been delivered and there was 
growing consternation at the ministry. Kokothaki, Messerschmitt’s business 
manager, disclosed to a ministry investigator that the aircraft had gone into 
mass production not only at Augsburg but also on a licence basis elsewhere, 
even though the prototype’s test- flights were not complete. He depicted this 
action of his master as ‘irresponsible’. Messerschmitt took him aside and threat- 
ened him with dismissal, but Kokothaki stood his ground. The ministry had no 
alternative but to pour manpower and effort into the factory in an effort to save 
the aircraft; but deliveries of the Me 210 did not commence until 1942, and even 
then its troubles were only just beginning. 

Of all this Milch had been unaware, as he had long been excluded from Udet’s 
consultations. Until 1941 nobody ventured to injure the sensitive Director of Air 
Armament, although many recognized where the blame lay. General von 
Witzendorff described Udet as ‘a sparkling society man, full of wit and hu- 
mour’, but he disliked desk work and had relied so heavily on his staff that their 
power had outgrown his own. The Luftwaffe’s chief judge advocate wrote of 
Udet, ‘He had none of the qualities needed for a high office. Above all he lacked 
real knowledge, he lacked moral rectitude, and he lacked a sense of responsibil- 
ity.’ 21 And Heinkel’s Berlin representative minuted in February 1941 that Milch 
was blaming Udet for their equipment shortcomings in the Battle of Britain: 



‘Everything turns to dust in Udet’s hands.’ 22 

At the ministry Udet’s staff had swollen to more than four thousand — a 
rabbit warren of colonels, bureaucrats and engineers, responsible for everything 
but responsible to nobody. After this unwholesome heritage had fallen to Milch, 
Goring warned him: ‘There’s still many a scoundrel there . . . There are de- 
partments you’ve never heard of. But suddenly they come to life — suddenly 
there is some foul-up and the shout goes up: “Air Ministry!” “Not us!” you say. 
“ And how!” is the reply. And all of a sudden you find there is this department 
that has been ticking away there for a dozen years and nobody knew about it.’ 
Goring even claimed, ‘You’ll find people there who’ve been thrown out on 
their ears three times already, and they come to light in some other department 
again, only bigger and stronger than ever.’ 23 

Of Udet’s chief of staff, Major-General Ploch, Milch had already made an 
implacable enemy. He had lost heavily gambling with Milch and Sperrle at 
Deauville some months before and could not pay the debt; Milch had given the 
general a stern dressing-down, and Sperrle insisted on payment and used the 
money to buy clothes and food for Ploch’s wife. Ploch was found to have played 
a crucial role in Udet’s final collapse. 24 To his friends Udet began to complain of 
the interest Milch was showing in his affairs. He declared that Milch was a foe in 
his absence and a friend to his face. The field marshal was too much his opposite 
— too much of the ‘able and energetic U.S. businessman’, as Time magazine had 
recently described him. Moreover, even Udet, the antiseptic hero of the pre- 
1933 German film industry, had become infected with Nazi propaganda, and he 
did not remain unsusceptible to malicious rumours which were circulating 
about Milch’s non-Aryan origins. 

Early in April 1941 Udet was called upon to explain discrepancies discov- 
ered by Jeschonnek in the aircraft production figures. The resulting scrutiny 
exposed the weaknesses of the ‘sliding programmes’ which characterized the 
Udet era — programmes constantly altered to fit the results. 25 Throughout the 
spring the growing shortage of aero-engines and fighter aircraft featured regu- 
larly on Udet’s agenda for discussion with Goring, but there is no evidence that 
these topics were ever discussed. ‘When he met Goring,’ the judge advocate 
later wrote, ‘they just spoke of the old days. All talk of shop was painfully 



avoided.’* 26 

On 6 May 1941 Goring again went on leave for a month, staying at his 
tenth-century family castle outside Nuremberg. In his absence Milch inter- 
vened more firmly in Udet’s department, calling him to his hunting lodge one 
afternoon and ordering him to pull himself together. 27 The field marshal could 
be very tough indeed (one of Goring’s other state secretaries once claimed: 
‘That Milch — he pisses ice!’) and there is no doubt that Milch used his author- 
ity on this occasion. For the first time he learned that Udet had, as we have seen, 
no fewer than twenty-six departmental heads reporting directly to him; he ad- 
vised him to regroup his organization into three or four main sections, but the 
advice fell on deaf ears. 28 

Meanwhile the Luftwaffe had mounted a major airborne invasion — its 
last — to capture the Mediterranean island of Crete. In costly fighting, the 
German paratroops forced the British defences out; by the end of the operation 
4,500 of the thirteen thousand of Goring’s troops who had taken part were 
dead or missing, and the Ju 52 transport fleet had been halved (271 Ju 52s were 
destroyed or damaged beyond repair). On 22 May, with this battle still at its 
height, Goring summoned Milch to his castle to hear the news about Crete. 
Evidently Milch lost no time in outlining the chaotic production position — 
Germany was to enter the Russian campaign with 2,770 first-line aircraft in the 
east, compared with the 2,600 she had marshalled against Britain one year be- 
fore — since on the very next day, 23 May, Udet was subjected to a blistering 
attack by Goring, probably for the first time. 29 Udet in turn vented his feelings 
privately on Milch, telling Heinkel in Berlin: ‘They’re all against me. The “Iron 
Man” [Goring] has just gone on leave and he has left me at Milch’s mercy. 
Milch deputizes for him at the Fuhrer’s headquarters, and will see that every 
error I have ever made is served up for the Fuhrer’s edification.’ 30 A few days 

* Udet’s agendas are preserved among Milch’s documents. They make interesting reading. I n 
the notes for 6 March 1941, ‘Supply position and conference with Air Staff on increasing fighter 
production’ is item 10, after such items as ‘War Service Medal with Swords for Hanna Reitsch’. 
Item 10 was not reached, for it appears again as item 17 on 12 March and again on 18 March. 
Study of the whole series of notes suggests that most such items remained permanently undis- 
cussed. Udet’s notes for 29 April are decorated with a cluster of brightly coloured balloons. 



later Udet was to be seen in the same restaurant, at Milch’s table, laughing and 
drinking with his friend as usual. 31 

Goring sent Milch to France to scrutinize Sperrle’s Third Air Force, but 
within a few days the field marshal was back in Berlin, resuming his investiga- 
tion of Udet’s office. The latter’s adjutant recorded ‘considerable arguments’ 
with Milch; Milch just noted, ‘Hopeless’, in his diary. 32 It proved impossible to 
extract firm statistics from Udet’s staff. ‘What they dished up there was just 
rubbish,’ Milch recalled two years later. ‘Nobody understood it, least of all the 
people who had prepared the figures.’ And Goring shared his mistrust: ‘if they 
come to, me with graphs, then I know from the outset that it’s a swindle; and if 
they want to multiply the swindle, they do it all in three colours!’ 33 

Milch knew enough to spot the fallacies: a new aircraft took nine months 
or more to manufacture, yet on average Udet’s staff had drafted a new pro- 
gramme every six weeks. He was beginning to suspect that Udet’s whole four- 
thousand-man office was based on nothing but self-deception and fantasy. 34 
This was a view which Goring also adopted in time: ‘Never have I been so de- 
ceived, so bamboozled and so cheated as by that office. It has no equal in his- 

In mid-June Milch saw Hitler again, in company with over forty other senior 
officers in Berlin for a final discussion before the invasion of Russia began eight 
days later. 35 Hitler spoke to them on the justification for his attack. The princi- 
pal enemy was still Britain — she would keep fighting as long as this had any 
point. It was a British national characteristic illustrated as much by the individ- 
ual soldier’s demeanour at Flanders and Dunkirk as in Greece and Crete. 36 But 
Britain’s fight made sense only so long as there was a prospect of effective 
American aid and Russian intervention, and American aid could have no effect 
before the summer of 1942, and only then if the volume of traffic across the 
Atlantic could be maintained in face of mounting Allied shipping losses. Russia’s 
attitude had always been one of opportunism: even if Germany were to make 
peace with Britain, the size of Russia’s armed forces would preclude any Ger- 
man demobilization. 

An early conflict, at a time of Germany’s choosing, was the only solution. 



As Russia had concentrated the bulk of her armed forces on their common 
frontier, there was every prospect of defeating her right there. 

Hitler had set out the Luftwaffe’s task as being ‘to release such powerful 
forces for the eastern campaign that a rapid conclusion of the ground opera- 
tions may be anticipated’. At the same time it was to ensure that ‘offensive op- 
erations against Britain, and in particular against her supply lines, do not come 
to a total standstill’. 37 On the day after Hitler’s conference Goring summoned 
his own commanders to Karinhall for a similar discussion. Milch gained the 
impression that Goring was uncertain of the future, and the general atmos- 
phere was not one of elation. 

The campaign opened shortly before dawn on 22 June, with heavy air attacks on 
three-score Russian airfields and on selected cities within aircraft range. The 
Russians were evidently taken by surprise and Milch ascribed this to the prob- 
ability that the enemy had ‘overestimated our intelligence’. 38 In fact, the Ger- 
mans had underestimated the Russians’ strength — the strength of Soviet in- 
dustry and the blind courage of the Soviet soldier. Most of Hitler’s command- 
ers had served on the western front in the First World War and had no concept 
of the endlessness of the Russian expanses; this was certainly true of Goring and 
Jeschonnek. But Milch knew the Russians: he had himself flown across the 
steppes, and above all he had cause to know the willingness with which the Slavs 
sacrificed themselves in a patriotic struggle; he was still haunted by memories of 
the bloodbaths he had seen on the Russian front a quarter of a century before. 

General Jeschonnek approached the new war with enthusiasm (‘at last a 
proper war!’) and even Milch shared this momentary fervour: he recorded 
r,6oo Russian aircraft destroyed on the first day, a figure he amended before 
nightfall to r, 800. 39 About 800 more were reported destroyed on the twenty- 
third, 557 on the twenty- fourth, 35r on the twenty-fifth, and a further 300 next 
day. Exaggerated though these early reports probably were, the Luftwaffe’s own 
losses were nothing in comparison. 40 

Only later did it become clear that the ‘army support’ role assigned to the 
Luftwaffe would last longer than just the first few weeks. Inevitably the tempo- 
rary prohibition on attacking strategic targets in the Soviet hinterland contin- 



ued in force, because the initial war of movement did not come to an end. In 
the meantime the enemy’s industrial plants were evacuated along still intact 
railways to far beyond the Urals, where the German bombers could not reach 
them, and soon the stricken Soviet air force was being reequipped with new 
aircraft. After the first weeks of triumph, a night without end closed upon Hit- 
ler and his grand strategy. 





June-November 1941 

seen in the perspective of war, the passing of one man may seem of little in- 
terest in the biography of another. Yet no event was to have a more profound 
effect on Erhard Milch than the death of Ernst Udet. 

The long final phase of this personal tragedy began two days before the 
invasion of the Soviet Union. Anticipating swift victory, Hitler commanded a 
reduction in the level of army armaments production and high priority for the 
production of aircraft for the subsequent fight against Britain . 1 Goring issued 
orders for the quadrupling of the Luftwaffe’s front line, and to this purpose he 
gave Milch a special commission to carry the new programme through. Milch 
was to discuss everything with Udet over the next few days and find out what 
the true capabilities of the air industry were . 2 

Udet, however, knew of no way of increasing aircraft production. He was 
already very ill — apathetic, afflicted with blood disorders and terrible head- 
aches; all day long he heard a buzzing in his ears and no doctor could help 
him . 3 He feared the bustling field marshal more than he feared any other. Now 
Milch came to him with instructions from Goring that he was to be told all. 
Milch later said, ‘Udet told me all his woes — not enough raw materials, not 
enough workers.’ In other ways too the Luftwaffe was the Cinderella of the war 
economy, said Udet: ‘Nobody stands up for the Luftwaffe. Minister Todt has 
far greater influence on the Lfihrer than Goring .’ 4 Todt had headed the army’s 



munitions procurement since the spring of 1940; as such his authority over the 
allocation of raw materials and manpower was formidable. 

Milch told Goring that the Fuhrer’s new command would result in an in- 
creased front line only if it was supported by a powerful written authority for 
‘either Udet or me’, an authority ‘with which we can make headway against the 
army’s armament’. Goring asked him to draw one up and he would sign it. 5 It 
was ready a few hours later and Milch’s was the name entered in it. 6 

The document authorized Milch to close down and confiscate factories, to 
erect temporary buildings regardless of industrial regulations, air-raid precau- 
tions, social amenities and the like. It empowered him to draft German man- 
power by force into factory construction and aircraft manufacture. He could 
cancel contracts, ‘dismiss and transfer leading personalities of the entire arma- 
ments industry without regard to existing private contracts of service’, create 
new limited companies and hive off old factories operating inefficiently. The 
document was addressed to every Reich minister, to the military economics 
officers and to the High Command. 7 Goring signed it without hesitation. 8 

Milch immediately set the revolution in motion. On 23 June he charged 
Albert Speer, Berlin’s chief architect, with the rapid erection of three huge air- 
craft factories — each as big as the rambling Volkswagen works — at Briinn, Graz 
and Vienna. Speer noted, ‘Each building is to be put up in temporary form 
only, and is to be pulled down without question at the end of the war.’ 9 Speer 
completed these three buildings within eight months. Next day Milch discussed 
with the industrialization expert, William Werner, the radical reorganization of 
the industry under an ‘industrial council’ as supervisory body: the factories 
were to be encouraged to work more on their own initiative, but the industry 
would be divided up into slabs according to product, not according to the fac- 
tory’s name or the aircraft type. Each such slab, termed a ‘production ring’, 
would have a ‘controller’ responsible to the council, of which Milch was chair- 
man; the controller would be the most outstanding industrialist in that par- 
ticular field. If crankshafts were produced at twenty factories, all would now be 
controlled by the one man; it meant the end of trade secrets, but an obvious 
increase in efficiency. 10 In Milch’s view only the industrialists — whom be knew 
and respected from his Lufthansa days — could meet the new challenge. 



Milch called a major conference at the Air Ministry to unfold the ‘Goring 
Programme’. 11 He announced that the present production of the air industry 
was not enough to keep pace with their losses; they would probably lose eight or 
nine hundred aircraft during June. During the Russian campaign, moreover, 
British aircraft production would be undisturbed by air attack, and soon the 
Germans must reckon with American aircraft production being added to the 
scales as well. ‘The Luftwaffe is therefore to be quadrupled,’ he explained. The 
name ‘Goring Programme’ was Milch’s own idea: ‘I wanted the programme to 
carry the Reichsmarschall’s name,’ he candidly told industrialists later, ‘so that 
he would feel some close connection with it.’ 12 

The first target Milch set was to double 
production of war aircraft — an increase of 
r,200 — by the late spring of r942. The three 
bottlenecks — aero-engine production, 
manpower and aluminium supplies — would 
each be settled in a different way. A plant 
with a capacity of a thousand engines a 
month was under construction; its comple- 
tion would be brought forward by one 
month to four months. Speer was building 
three aircraft assembly factories. To meet the 
huge labour requirements — assessed by 
Udet at a minimum of 3,500,000 new work- 
ers to add to the existing 1,300,000 in air 
armament — Hitler ordered the immediate 
disbandment of three divisions in the east as 
one contribution, while the bulk of the rest 
were ‘to be withdrawn from army produc- 
tion’. To curb the growing problems of absentees (. Bummelanten ), Milch an- 
nounced, ‘I have reached agreement with the Reichsfiihrer SS Himmler, that 
anybody who changes jobs more than three times a year is to be drafted to a 
forced labour battalion; and anybody who refuses to work even there will be 

Udet, the Bohemian 
caricaturist and former stunt 
pilot, alternately idolized and 
mistrusted Milch. 
(milch collection) 



Udet did not attend these Air Ministry conferences. His engineers advised 
Milch that the whole aircraft programme was hamstrung by the supplies of 
aluminium and copper available. As it was, the existing airframe industry could 
use only eighty percent of its production capacity because of the aluminium 
shortage; what was the point of expanding the capacity?* 

There seemed no way round this. Milch pondered the aluminium prob- 
lem for several days and finally sent a score of young engineers to examine 
every aircraft factory for ways of reducing aluminium and copper consump- 
tion. They reported to him not only on wasteful metal-working practices — for 
example, better machining methods would save fifteen hundred pounds of 
aluminium in one aero-engine alone — but on downright abuses of the Reich’s 
aluminium resources. At Messerschmitt’s factory his engineers chanced upon 
workers manufacturing tropical huts from the Luftwaffe’s aluminium stocks, 
for a navy contract in connection with Germany’s future colonial programme; 
other Messerschmitt workers were turning out aluminium ladders for vine- 
yards. All the inspectors reported finding secret stocks of aluminium hoarded 
for emergencies. 14 

In Milch’s view the emergency had now come. Above all he was alarmed 
by the resources of the United States. By 1 May combined Anglo-American air- 
craft production was greater than that of the Axis countries, and if Germany 
was content with the present rate the imbalance would be twice as great by the 
end of 1942. From intelligence sources Milch knew that in June the American 
industry had manufactured 2,800 high-grade aero-engines. By the summer 
American production was 1,400 aircraft of all war types (including trainers) 
every month; in 1942 America would probably produce sixteen thousand mili- 
tary aircraft. 15 ‘Britain would have hauled the flag down long ago if it had not 
been for America’s support,’ Milch was to say later in the summer. ‘The Ameri- 

* So Milch said on 26 June 1941. In August 1943 he recalled, ‘At that time the experts calculated 
that we needed sixteen thousand tons of copper a month, otherwise the industry would never 
manage eight hundred aircraft. Today we are not even getting four thousdand tons of copper but 
we have not manufactured one single aircraft or aircraft component fewer because of any copper 
shortage.’ 13 

M 3 


cans can manufacture in peace; they have enough to eat, they have enough 
workers (with still over five million unemployed) and they do not suffer air 
raids. American war industry is magnificently organized by a man who really 
knows his business, Mr Knudsen of General Motors.’ 16 

Against this firm intelligence on the British and American aircraft pro- 
duction programmes Milch could set only the vaguest information on German 
production. He knew that Udet was running down production of all the cur- 
rently used engine types and most of the bombers, except the improved Dorn- 
ier (the Do 217), which would rise to sixty a month from February r942; but he 
could extract no firm promises from Udet on what bomber was to replace the 
Heinkel rrr and the Junkers 88 from early r942. There was talk in Udet’s office 
of a Bomber B, but when Milch, suddenly alarmed for the future, pressed for 
information it became apparent that no decision had even been reached on 
which of two contenders — a Junkers 288, or a Focke-Wulf r9r — was to be the 
Bomber B. 17 

At Nuremberg Milch was to testify, c . . . and now I wanted to see this new 
aircraft; and in doing so I found out that this aircraft could never start pro- 
duction in r942, but in r944 at the earliest.’ 18 It was generally agreed that B 
would be powered by the Jumo 222, with a take-off power of 2,000 horsepower. 
It had originally been designed to succeed the r, 500-horsepower Jumo 2r3, the 
hoped-for successor to the Jumo 2n powering the Junkers 88; in 1940, when the 
more powerful (1,450 horsepower) Jumo 2riJ had been developed using special 
air cooling, the ministry had decided to use it to power the next generation of 
Junkers 88s instead of the Jumo 213 which was not much better, and then pro- 
ceed straight to Bomber B — probably the Junkers 288 — at the beginning of 
1942. The trouble was that the Jumo 222 was causing difficulties: the airframe of 
the Ju 288 had first flown at the end of 1940, using the BMW 801G engines as 
stand-ins, but it had still not flown using the Jumo 222s. 19 This was the problem 
to which not only Udet but his entire staff had shut their eyes. Production of 
their existing bombers was being run to a standstill, but the replacement was 
hopelessly delayed. From the spring of r942 the Reich would be producing 
fewer than one hundred bombers a month. It spelt certain death to the bomber 



Even worse was the fighter aircraft situation. Average fighter production 
had never exceeded 220 a month, but now Udet had stopped production of the 
old fighters and was retooling for an advanced Me 109 powered by the DB 605 
engine. The trouble was that this engine was overheating and neither the in- 
dustry nor Udet’s engineers had solved the problem. Similarly, the replacement 
for the Me 110 twin-engined fighter, the Me 210, was demonstrating serious 
design faults: it tended to go into a flat spin, and many brave test pilots had 
already lost their lives. 20 Finally, they were also experiencing trouble with the 
engine for Kurt Tank’s remarkable fighter, the Focke-Wulf 190; the double-row 
radial engine — the BMW 801 — was a departure from the in-line liquid cooled 
engines previously favoured by German designers. In short, a daunting task 
confronted Milch. 

‘I wanted this job like the devil,’ wrote Milch in his memoirs, ‘because I 
had no wish to make things more difficult for my friend Udet, who allowed 
himself to be talked into things by his staff, unfortunately. On the other hand, 
it was a matter of life and death.’ By early July it was clear to him that a quad- 
rupling of the Fuftwaffe, the ‘Goring Programme’, was an unrealistic ideal, as 
they would have neither the aluminium to build the planes, nor the fuel to fly 
them. The High Command’s General Thomas and Ernst Udet agreed with him 
on an interim target of doubling the front line, beginning in the summer of 
1942; Milch asked Udet to draw up an interim production programme 
reflecting this. ‘Give me until tomorrow,’ was the general’s reply. (Milch later 
found that there was a special department which did nothing but draw up pro- 
grammes in multi-colored graphs and diagrams.) But he advised Udet to take 
rather longer to draw up this one, and to bring the draft to his office on 8 
July. 21 He reported to Goring on the fourth on the steps he had taken, and 
departed on his first tour of the units fighting on the eastern front. 

Udet did not appear on the eighth. His staff said that he had flown inde- 
pendently to headquarters to show Goring the new ‘Moose’ programme. (This 
was evidently the embryo interim programme.) Milch angrily cabled the Di- 
rector of Air Armament, ‘care of Reichsmarschall Goring’, instructing him to 
return to Berlin before showing the ‘Moose’ programme to the Reichsmar- 
schall. 22 How could he carry out Goring’s special commission if Udet continued 



to act as if it did not exist? 

Neither Goring nor Udet saw the incident in this light. Udet complained 
about the telegram, and on 9 July Milch received a letter from Goring berating 
him for putting pressure on the colonel-general: he, Goring, would discuss his 
programme with anybody he liked. Udet returned to Berlin that evening, but 
for many days declined to call on Milch. Eventually Milch cabled Goring that 
he wished to be released immediately from the special commission. After several 
more days he was instructed to fly to headquarters on the sixteenth. Here 
Goring abused him for his lack of cooperation with Udet. 23 The state secretary 
replied that he had good cause: much against his instincts, he had accepted 
Goring’s commission, yet Udet was acting as though it did not exist. Shown 
Udet’s new ‘Moose’ programme, he told the Reichsmarschall it was as impossible 
as its predecessors. There could be no effect on finished aircraft production for 
at least nine months, that being the length of the production pipeline, yet the 
‘Moose’ programme showed a huge increase within ten months. Udet could 
only apologize that these were his experts’ figures — he could not check them 
himself. ‘The main thing is that we are of one accord,’ Milch said, and Udet and 
Milch flew back to Berlin together. 24 

For the next weeks the new harmony was maintained. It was the harmony 
of doctor and patient. But over them hung the knowledge that production was 
still not keeping pace. By 5 July the Luftwaffe’s first-line strength on the eastern 
front was down to 1,888 fighters and bombers. 25 Milch and Udet toiled round 
from BMW to Daimler-Benz and from Dornier to Messerschmitt. The state 
secretary tried hard to overcome his antipathy toward the latter — it was he 
who had recommended Messerschmitt (and Heinkel) for the National Prize 
some years before. Yet Professor Messerschmitt was only interested in designing 
new aircraft. Altogether there were currently no fewer than forty different 
German aircraft types under production, of which Messerschmitt was working 
on eleven. (Heinkel had designed ten aircraft, of which only one was in mass 
production.) Milch attached particular importance to the undisturbed pro- 
duction of the Me 109 fighter, particularly the Mark F, as soon as possible. 

On 7 August he flew to Bavaria with Udet to tour the Messerschmitt fac- 
tories. When they landed at Augsburg they found the Messerschmitt staff lined 



up for a great parade. This was the first irritation Milch encountered. The sec- 
ond was that he found surprisingly little activity when he toured the Me 109 
production line. The professor guided him into a development building and 
proudly showed him the prototype of the Me 262 jet fighter; but it had only 
wooden engines, and Milch knew that the first Jumo 004 jet engines were not 
nearly ready (the engine’s flight trials did not begin for seven months). 26 He 
suspected that Messerschmitt was trying to distract attention and angrily or- 
dered the ministry’s inspector at the works to see that no work whatsoever was 
done on the Me 262 mock-up until the Me 109F was coming off the production 

But Professor Messerschmitt remained unconvinced by Milch’s hard lan- 
guage. He now recalls, ‘As soon as my visitors had flown off, I sat down with the 
ministry inspector — Engineer-Colonel Meyer — and his people and persuaded 
them to let me carry on with the jet on the quiet. They granted me twenty en- 
gineers, and we went on as though nothing had happened.’ 27 Milch soon con- 
cluded that he could not rely on Messerschmitt, and when he promulgated his 
new production programme it showed an increase in the Me 109, but a demand 
for two and a half times as many Focke-Wulf 190s as Me 109s. 28 

Setbacks in the Russian campaign in August resulted in a recasting of priorities. 
The army could no longer demobilize manpower for Milch, and now had a 
requirement for six hundred medium and fifty heavy tanks a month. In mid- 
August Milch none the less argued with the other services for the provision of 
sufficient workers for the air industry: ‘The production and wastage of aircraft 
are just about balancing each other out at present,’ he said. ‘So there will not be 
any overall increase in our fighting strength — indeed, there will be a decrease, 
since we cannot expect to get the aircraft back from the eastern front in perfect 
condition for the western front, when the war in Russia is over.’ 29 He urged the 
adoption of total war measures (like prohibiting any construction work of 
purely postwar interest, such as the reconstruction of Munich station) before it 
was too late. 

He did what he could to alleviate the most pressing needs of the squad- 
rons. On 21 August he flew to the eastern front and toured the units. On every 



airfield there were scores, and sometimes hundreds, of damaged aircraft immo- 
bilized by the lack of proper spares. He organized squads of engineers to fly 
from squadron to squadron, cannibalizing the damaged aircraft to produce fit 
ones again. 30 As in one of Lufthansa’s crises many years before, Milch scruti- 
nized the stocks of useless spares held by the squadrons. ‘When I recall what an 
idiot I was myself as a squadron commander in the Great War!’ Milch said some 
weeks later. ‘For just nine aircraft we had several hundred Bosch magnetos and 
five hundred rubber tyres in our stores.’ 31 A typical absurdity permitted by 
Udet now was that while the most frequent requirement was for new undercar- 
riages for Ju 52 transporters damaged by the rough landing grounds, a com- 
plete set of Ju 52 spares costing 120,000 marks had to be purchased each time. 
On his return from the front Milch dictated a blistering letter to Udet’s chief of 
staff: ‘Our current contracts for supply of spares run to 1.9 billion marks. This 
sum is to be cut radically and immediately, and by that I mean at least one bil- 
lion marks before further investigation!’ 32 

Inevitably his first major casus belli was the Bomber B. Since the Focke- 
Wulf 191 was a year behind the Ju 288 Milch could narrow the choice down 
immediately to the latter. But by August 1941 it was plain that a not unfamiliar 
problem had arisen: the all-up weight of the Ju 288 had increased as the Air 
Staff continually added to their specification. As a result, the prototype Jumo 
222 power-plant was not only now too weak but was plagued by malfunctions. 33 
Yet Udet’s Bomber B was the pivot of 1942’s aircraft production, rising to a 
production of three hundred a month by the end of that year. Milch asked 
Junkers’s general manager Dr Koppenberg whether he could start manufac- 
turing Bomber B at all in 1942. He replied emphatically that he could, but 
mentioned a possible delay because of the engine. Milch had obtained a graphic 
lay-out of the history of the Ju 52 from design through development and pilot 
series to mass production; and the Ju 288 was far more complex: ‘If I use this as 
a basis of comparison,’ he pointed out, ‘and assume that the Bomber B can be 
completed just as quickly as the Ju 52, then you see we will get it not in 1942, but 
in 1944!’ He dismissed Koppenberg from Junkers on the spot. 34 

At the end of August Milch’s staff were told that there were indeed fun- 
damental problems in the Jumo 222’s piston-rod bearings and cylinder heads, 



but that mass production was envisaged for mid-1942. The Ju 288 would start 
production in August 1942. Milch instinctively mistrusted this aircraft; far bet- 
ter to rely on the most modern version of the Ju 88 for another year. On 6 
September, Goring approved this reasoning: it was the numbers of aircraft 
alone that counted. He authorized Milch to cancel the Jumo 222 engine con- 
tract, and to postpone the Bomber B. 35 It was clear that Koppenberg’s was just 
the first head to roll. 

When Milch had returned from his tour of the Russian front, on 27 August 
1941, he found Udet gone: he had at last departed on sick leave on Goring’s 
insistence, and became a patient in a sanatorium. 36 Even here Udet had little 
respite, for many measures required his signature — the reorganization of his 
office, the reversion to the older aircraft types, new programme schedules and 
the like. Milch had to visit him at his bedside to ask him to reinstate the previ- 
ously cancelled aircraft in the production programme: more than 240 Ju 88s, 
160 He 111s, and 65 Do 217s would have to be produced with the requisite en- 
gines each month until such time as the replacement types were ripe for pro- 
duction. 37 Milch later explained, ‘I visited him and procured his signature, 
though not without some pressure. Had we not done so on 1 September, we 
would have seen no new bombers and scarcely any new fighters in 1942. ’ 38 

A few days later Milch also dismissed Udet’s planning chief, Engineer- 
General Tschersich, and at the same time removed Koppenberg from the In- 
dustrial Council and stripped him of the special powers for Ju 88 production. 39 
He already had new men lined up for the vacancies — big names from Luf- 
thansa and industry. As a shrewd move for the future he invited Dr Albert 
Vogler, one of the most respected names in the steel industry, to join his In- 
dustrial Council; on it Milch rested his hopes for increasing output. He 
planned to fight American conveyer-belt techniques, like those he had himself 
witnessed at Detroit in the twenties, and Soviet slave-labour with the capitalist 
profit incentive. To set against Russia’s vast losses (‘she has lost 1.2 to 1.3 million 
dead already’) there remained one inescapable fact: ‘In 1941 we manufactured 
fewer aircraft each month than we did in 1940!’ 40 

There was no problem associated with increasing production which the 



state secretary did not consider. With Rautenbach he organized extra foundry 
capacity; with Porsche he arranged for the incorporation of part of the Volks- 
wagen works; recalling that the Luftwaffe maintained large sawmills in the east, 
he ordered mass production of sixty thousand wooden chalets to help house 
the hundreds of thousands of extra workers to be injected into the industry. 41 

All of this had been put in hand by 25 September, when Colonel-General 
Udet — healed in body but still haunted by fears — returned two weeks early 
from his convalescence. 42 Milch told him of the reorganization of the office and 
proposed Lufthansa’s Karl-August von Gablenz as the new planning chief. 
Udet reacted violently against the suggestion, but he agreed to appoint Colonel 
Edgar Petersen — who had commanded KG 40, a wing of FW 200s — as the new 
Commander of Research Establishments, with Colonel Wolfgang Vorwald tak- 
ing over Udet’s second office, head of the Technical Department. 43 

Goring persuaded Udet to accept even von Gablenz, emphasizing with a 
sidelong glance at Milch, ‘That’s the very best man I have!’ 44 

Milch had also recommended that Udet’s chief of staff, Ploch, should be 
honourably posted away from Berlin, but Goring was in no mood for half 
measures. On 28 September Udet ordered him to report to the Reichsmarschall. 
The leave-taking cannot have been a friendly one, for Goring still spoke of him 
years later with the utmost distaste: ‘There was a case when an inventor of some 
standing came to us with an idea. As Udet was busy he was referred to the chief 
of staff [Ploch], Ploch sat up and said, “Yes? So you are the crackpot with yet 
another invention for us! Well, I’ve got an invention too. It’s called a door. You 
came in by it. Get out!”’ Goring sacked Ploch and banished him to the eastern 
front. 45 

From that time Ernst Udet could only assume, despite all Milch’s assurances to 
the contrary, that his own career was at an end. Inevitably he sensed the ease 
with which Milch invested the new programme with momentum and urgency. 
At Opel’s production line near Frankfurt they inspected Ju 88 manufacture 
and Milch called Udet’s attention to the mass-production techniques employed 
and the firm’s avoidance of bureaucratic methods. 46 By the twentieth the new 
aircraft programme was drawn up in final outline and approved by Goring. 47 



Altogether Milch and Udet were together a dozen times during October, and 
tried to pick up their old friendship at Horcher’s again. Before the war Udet 
had once told the author Carl Zuckmayer that he would never go to Horcher’s 
again: ‘That’s where the top Nazis hang out now.’ But now he was a top Nazi 
himself, and he had enjoyed the fruits of power too long to be able to abdicate 

On 21 October 1941 Milch announced details of the aircraft production 
programme — Udet’s last — to two hundred representatives of the industry at 
the ministry. 48 One feature was very new: whereas the old ratio of Me 109s to 
FW 190s had been four to one in Messerschmitt’s favour, it was now three to 
one against. It seemed that Kurt Tank’s new fighter was proving more reliable 
in the squadrons than the Me 109, whose fragile landing gear was a constant 
source of trouble. Many factories currently assembling the Me 109 under licence 
were to change over to the FW 190. 

This shattering news was reported to Messerschmitt’s board next day. The 
company’s deputy chairman and banker, Fritz Seiler, who had devoted eight 
years to making Messerschmitt independent of ministry finance, was stunned 
by the landslide; after the Me 210 fiasco it was a terrible blow to company pres- 
tige. When he pointed out to Milch that the conversion to FW 190s would cause 
a considerable production loss, the state secretary observed that the particulars 
had been assembled for him by Udet’s office. Seiler gathered that Messer- 
schmitt’s objections came at ‘anything but an inconvenient moment’ for Milch. 
The latter gave him two or three weeks to prove his case. 49 

Seiler soon learned that the Me 109’s superiority was not enough to war- 
rant reverting to the old ratio by itself; but from one of the biggest aircraft re- 
pair plants he obtained proof that one of Udet’s staff had supplied falsified test 
data favouring the FW 190. And from one of the Me 109 factories — the first 
due for conversion to FW 190 production — Seiler received statistical evidence 
that the conversion would cost a production loss of six hundred fighter aircraft 
there alone. On Professor Messerschmitt’s suggestion this production loss was 
marked as a red shaded area on a graph for Milch. 

This ammunition was ready in time for Milch’s conference on 12 Novem- 
ber. The state secretary explained that Messerschmitt’s banker had claimed that 



converting factories to FW r90 production was not only an unjustified repu- 
diation of the Me ro9, but would also set back total fighter production for many 
months. He invited Seiler to explain why his test findings on the two aircraft 
differed from the reports supplied by Udet’s office to both Goring and himself. 
By way of reply, Seiler handed him the photocopied documents establishing the 
falsification of the test reports. Milch studied the papers and handed them to 
Udet; Udet looked at them and turned to Seiler, saying: ‘Not a very comradely 
action, Herr Seiler. The decent thing would have been to tell me of this before- 
hand.’ Seiler retorted that nobody had warned Messerschmitt’s of the im- 
pending programme change: ‘It’s a game of chess, Herr Udet. I am making the 
second move.’ 

Now Seiler announced that, as we have seen, the fighter production loss 
from just one factory he had investigated would be six hundred aircraft. Milch 
studied the red-shaded diagram and complained, ‘Why was no such chart pre- 
pared by the Office of Air Armament?’ Udet made no reply. In the circum- 
stances, Milch announced, he would do what he could to restore the original 
ratio of Me ro9S to FW r90s, although he could not promise more than three to 
one, as one factory was already being converted. It was the ultimate humiliation 
for Udet and his staff. 

Perhaps Udet felt he had been ambushed by his friend. Detecting his bit- 
ter expression as they left the room, Milch called him aside and said, ‘Udet, I 
have the impression that our relationship has taken a beating. We must 
straighten things out again. Let’s go to Paris for a few days’ relaxation. We both 
need the break.’ Udet accepted the invitation. 50 As Milch had arranged to go 
hare-coursing outside Breslau over the coming weekend he suggested that he 
should collect his friend at Tempelhof airport at noon on Monday. They would 
fly to Paris together in Udet’s small Siebel ro4 passenger plane. 

With that they parted. Udet spent the weekend with his mistress, a rich 
divorcee, and with Major-General Ploch, who had returned to Berlin from the 
eastern front, whither he had been banished by Goring some weeks before. 
Milch flew to Breslau. On r 7 November dense fog stopped him flying back, so 
he drove the two hundred miles to Berlin along the autobahn. At the ministry 
he was about to set out for Tempelhof when Udet’s adjutant telephoned: Udet 



had shot himself that morning . 51 

In his last long talk with his mistress the previous day Udet had mentioned 
some of the problems in which he had become enmeshed — problems of supply, 
bottlenecks and material shortages. ‘I am sitting at the wrong desk,’ he had kept 
repeating. That morning her telephone had rung and she had recognized his 
troubled voice. She offered to come round, but he had interrupted, ‘No, it is 
too late! Tell “Pili” Korner that he is to execute my testament.’ (Korner was one 
of Goring’s other state secretaries.) A shot had sounded in the receiver. Aghast, 
she rang Udet back on another line; the phone was not answered. By the time 
she and Korner reached the house the housekeeper had forced open the bed- 
room door. Two empty cognac bottles lay near the revolver on the floor; the 
body was on the bed . 52 

She told Korner that Udet had said that ‘they’ were after him. Whom 
Udet meant by ‘they’ was evident from two red-crayon phrases scrawled on the 
grey wall above the bed. One was directed against Reichsmarschall Goring: ‘Iron 
Man, you left me!’ In the other he turned on Milch, his best friend, asking 
Goring why he had surrendered him to ‘those Jews’ Milch and von Gablenz . 53 
While the lifeless body was carried into the bathroom Udet’s adjutant scrubbed 
the writing from the wall. Korner opened the dead man’s safe and while the 
adjutant cleared out the official papers Korner removed an envelope addressed 
to him. It contained Udet’s last letter to Goring. Korner decided he could not 
send it on. It amplified the wall graffiti with some venom — in one sentence 
Udet had described himself as a victim of ‘the Jews’ Milch and von Gablenz . 54 

By midday Milch himself had arrived at the house. Together they recon- 
structed Udet’s last hours. His heavy recourse to narcotic stimulants and all the 
ugly side-effects of addiction on his personal appearance had finally proved too 
much for his mistress and she was leaving him. His difficulties in the ministry 
and the sudden return of Ploch from the eastern front had pushed him over 
the brink. Ploch had spent the small hours drinking with him and was found 
by the official inquiry to have hinted that Milch was planning to dismiss Udet 
altogether. Learning of all this from Goring six months later, Milch wrote in his 
diary, ‘The swine was Ploch !’ 55 



Not since the death of a boyhood friend in a Lufthansa crash eleven years be- 
fore had one man’s death affected Erhard Milch so much. He telephoned 
Goring that evening and discussed the implications. The Reichsmarschall was in 
no doubt that the scandal had to be hushed up. Next morning his physician 
cabled to the ministry a press notice Goring had dictated: 

While testing a new weapon on Monday 17 November 1941, the 
Director of Air Armament Colonel-General Udet suffered such a 
severe accident that he died of his injuries on the way to hospital. 

The Fiihrer has ordained a State funeral for this officer, who 
has departed this world so tragically in fulfilment of his duty. 56 

In Berlin the mortal remains of the man — a failure in his lifetime, and a 
hero again with his death — were returned to the Air Ministry. With solemn 
face Milch awaited the arrival of the cortege. As the pall-bearers slow-marched 
into the Great Hall the flags went to half-mast on every building in Berlin. The 
leading bearers of the Knight’s Cross were summoned from every corner of the 
Reich to mount guard on the coffin during the funeral service. 

That morning was overshadowed by still further tragedy. General 
Wilberg, one of Milch’s earliest commanders and a father of the secret Luftwaffe 
of the twenties, had been killed in an air crash, and Werner Molders died as his 
aircraft hit a factory chimney on the way to the funeral. Hitler remained silent 
throughout the ceremony. Years later he was to comment on the circumstances 
of Udet’s departure: ‘How easy he made it for himself!’ 57 As the Great Hall 
slowly emptied, Hitler took Field Marshal Milch aside and said pointedly to 
him: ‘Now there is another grave burden for you to take upon yourself.’ 

After four years of enforced inactivity, watching as incompetent men — 
some well-meaning, some evil — had destroyed the future of the German air 
force, Erhard Milch, the state secretary in the Air Ministry, was to become Di- 
rector of Air Armament as well; he was to preside over the Luftwaffe’s rebirth. 




‘ Perhaps I look a sight to you today, 
but I guarantee I won’t still look a sight 
in three months’ time.’ 

Milch to his staff, early 1942 




November 1941-March 1942 

asked by an allied interrogator to describe the Luftwaffe’s cardinal errors in 
the Second World War, Field Marshal Milch replied that he knew only one: 
‘One hundred and forty thousand unbuilt fighter aircraft!’ 1 More clearly than 
any of his contemporaries he had foretold the coming apocalypse. From intelli- 
gence sources the Germans knew that America — now at war with Japan and 
Germany — was planning to manufacture sixty thousand aircraft in 1942 and 
twice that number in 1943. 2 

Milch had inherited a veritable clinic of ailing projects, ill-planned in- 
dustry and corrupt organization. In the spring of 1944, when air superiority 
was finally lost to the Allies, a Luftwaffe expert was to write, looking back over 
the years of Udet: 

Were one to pen a faithful account, an objective history of the 
Luftwaffe’s technical development since 1934, then any outsider to- 
day — or better, any of our descendants — would take the whole 
thing as satire, dreamed up by some diseased imagination. Who 
could seriously believe that in real life there would be so much in- 
adequacy, bungling, entanglement, misplaced power, lack of appre- 
ciation of the truth and overlooking of intelligent ideas? 3 



Milch proved himself equal to the situation. In the twenty months before 
the appearance of the American air force in earnest in July 1943, he increased 
German aircraft production 2.7 times. 4 By the time he was forced to stand down 
in June 1944, the industry was manufacturing fifteen times as many fighter air- 
craft as in the summer of 1941. Milch achieved this by ruthless rationalization of 
the industry, and by a seemingly immiscible amalgam of brutality and human- 
ity. Important posts were filled with capable officers, paperwork was halved, 
efficient contacts were established between industry and squadron, and eccen- 
tric and useless aircraft projects were struck off the programmes. By early 1943 
he had reached the supreme pinnacle of his career. The story would take a 
dozen volumes to tell with justice. 

His relations with the principal aircraft designers, and particularly with 
Willy Messerschmitt, had always been marked by an animosity for which there 
was probably no sound reason; but once it was there it could not be dispelled, 
and each discovered added cause to dislike the other. The feud with Messer- 
schmitt dated back to 1928. At Nuremberg — and indeed during the war — 
Milch alleged that the tall, balding designer had not built his aircraft with the 
necessary safety factors. In 1928 he had ordered six Me 20 passenger planes for 
Lufthansa, of which three had crashed because of a design fault, killing among 
others a lifelong personal friend and assistant of Milch. Milch had cancelled the 
airline’s remaining contract with Messerschmitt, forcing his company into near 
bankruptcy. As will be seen in the epilogue, it was Messerschmitt’s vice- 
chairman, the ‘brownshirt’ SA general Theo Croneiss, who had spread the 
rumours of Milch’s Jewish blood in 1933, and he had even produced for Goring 
a dossier including a photograph of a tombstone in a Jewish cemetery in Breslau 
bearing the name ‘Milch’. When, in June 1933, Messerschmitt approached the 
new Air Ministry for fresh contracts, Milch had required the banker Seiler to 
sign a two-million-mark bond, to be forfeited the day any new Messerschmitt 
aircraft crashed because of design failure. When the banker accepted this almost 
outrageous demand, Milch warned him: ‘You are bailing out a would-be in- 
dustrialist who will never make the grade. And the moment you are down, 
Messerschmitt won’t help you up. He’ll kick you in the teeth!’ 5 

When Milch in turn was powerless, in Landsberg Prison, the sensitive and 



gifted professor secured his revenge by spreading malicious half-truths about 
how Milch had ‘rejected’ the Me 262 jet fighter. (‘Again and again the venge- 
ance of this scoundrel,’ fumed Milch. ‘Just because I declared 360,000 marks a 
year too high a salary for him and four or five of his directors!’) 6 

Professor Heinkel was another prima donna Milch did not believe he 
could trust in the drawing office. The He 177 long-range bomber and recon- 
naissance plane was still not in service. Its promised performance was better 
than any bomber in the world, carrying two tons of bombs to targets 1,400 miles 
inside enemy territory at 225 miles per hour, with a top speed of 325 miles per 
hour and a service ceiling of over 25,000 feet. Milch’s programme included 120 
He 177s a month, but many had crashed or caught fire in mid-air and a dozen 
test-pilots had already been killed. The tail-plane and rudder had had to be 
enlarged and there were serious difficulties with the huge airscrews and with the 
coupled engines. The engines were water-cooled, and the water circulation was 
inadequate. 7 Goring was to ask why this strange engine design had been chosen, 
with the two engines fitted into the same casing side by side: ‘I was told at the 
time that the two would be coupled in tandem, and now suddenly we find this 
monstrosity with the two engines welded together side by side, so that you just 
can’t get at them.’ 8 

Engine design had been Germany’s weakness for some years. 9 Under 
Udet’s stewardship airframe design alone had made great advances. Despite 
Goring’s express orders in 1938 work had still not even started on a thousand- 
engine factory. Daimler-Benz’s DB 601 production was running down, but the 
new generation of engines was plagued by problems and delay. For three years 
between 1937 and 1940 Udet had stopped all work on the further development 
of the DB 603, and had carefully policed the factories to ensure that his order 
was obeyed. The DB 603’s rival, the Jumo 213, had been put into abeyance in 
anticipation of the Jumo 222, but now that Milch had forced from Junkers’s 
general manager an admission of the latter engine’s tardiness, he was forced to 
put that on to a caretaker basis, and reopened the whole question of the some- 
what smaller DB 603’s advantages over the Jumo 213. In any event, neither 
could enter mass production before 1943. 10 Meantime, the DB 605 had en- 
countered technical problems: it was overheating and catching fire, and some of 



Germany’s best pilots, including the legendary Marseille, had been killed flying 
it in the Me 109G 11 ; but the mass-production lines had already been retooled, so 
there was no going back. ‘The entire fighter aircraft programme depends on it,’ 
Milch was to tell Goring. 12 

Reichsmarschall Goring ordered a full inquiry into the scandalous situation. 
The principal defendants were Ploch, Tschersich and Reidenbach; Udet himself 
was beyond mortal judgement. 13 Months of interrogation of everybody, from 
Goring through Jeschonnek and von Seidel to the lowest clerks, began. Perhaps 
mercifully the records of what became known as the Udet Case have not been 
preserved; occasionally among the captured German files we come across the 
scars it left. 14 The judge advocate finally reported to Goring that Udet had 
failed to provide any leadership and had neglected his duties in almost criminal 
fashion. He further proposed that no charges should be brought against Udet’s 
three lieutenants, as nobody would now benefit except perhaps the enemy. 
Goring was shattered by the report, broke into tears and told Hammerstein, 
head of his legal department, that he was grateful for the fate which had 
pressed the revolver into Udet’s hand. 15 

For many months afterward he continued to curse Udet and his staff. It 
was Reidenbach, one of Udet’s chief technical advisers, who had prevented 
Germany from owning a wooden aircraft like the superb RAF Mosquito. 
Goring had himself issued such a specification before the war at a technical 
conference. ‘Then the conference ended,’ Goring recalled to Milch, ‘and they 
left. And scarcely were they all outside than this fine gentleman, Reidenbach, 
announced, “Of course there’s no question of manufacturing such rubbish!”’ 16 
The records of the Udet Case were fall of similar episodes. 

Over the winter of 1941-2 the hopes of a blitzkrieg victory over Russia were 
finally dispelled. The Luftwaffe’s plans for postwar occupation of a defeated 
Russia were shelved for the time being. 17 In January Hitler cancelled the abso- 
lute priority accorded six months before to aircraft production, and reverted to 
the rearmament of the army in depth. 18 In the east his armies waged a desperate 
battle with the Russian winter. Frequently the Fiihrer drew comfort from the 



knowledge that Frederick the Great had extracted himself from worse predica- 
ments than these, and he ordered Milch to lecture the Party and Wehrmacht 
on the great Prussian’s exploits. ‘When one reflects that Frederick the Great 
held out against forces twelve times greater than his own,’ reflected Hitler, after 
reading Milch’s speech, ‘one looks a proper dunce in comparison. And this time 
it is we who have the supremacy! Isn’t that a disgrace!’ 19 

Of course the greatest supremacy in the world was inadequate when 
channelled through the bureaucracy of the German higher commands. Milch’s 
own efforts in March 1941 had spared the Luftwaffe the worst injury; at least the 
airmen and ground personnel were well clothed for the Russian winter. 20 But 
thanks to the neglect of the Quartermaster-General a major disaster had over- 
taken their equipment: of a hundred thousand Luftwaffe vehicles in the east, 
only fifteen percent were still functioning early in January 1942. 21 The compli- 
cated cold-start equipment had proved too delicate for Russian conditions, and 
the army, SS and Luftwaffe had all ignored the simple cold-start procedure 
(thinning the oil with a little petrol while the engine was still warm) which the 
Luftwaffe had itself demonstrated at the great Rechlin display in 1939. 22 Twice 
since Rechlin the army had been reminded of the cold-start procedure, but 
only on 10 November 1941 had the German War Office ordered the procedure 
to be introduced. 

Learning of this, Milch exploded: ‘If a regulation for winter-starting is 
issued by an authority on 10 November, it takes eight weeks for it to circulate in 
Germany. So think what it will take on the eastern front!’ 23 He ordered a fur- 
ther investigation and learned that von Seidel’s department had not published 
the Luftwaffe pamphlets on winter precautions until October, with revisions 
and further leaflets still being issued in January and February 1942. The losses of 
military equipment were enormous by the time the winter ended. ‘I have always 
hated snow,’ Hitler said when Milch was invited to dinner during February. 
‘Now I know why. It was a presentiment.’ 24 

During January 1942 a number of Dr Todt’s rivals came together and decided 
that ‘an armament overlord’ should be appointed, superior to Todt and to 
themselves; by the end of the month the choice had fallen informally on Milch, 



who had the support of Goring as head of the Four-Year Plan . 25 ‘We did not 
apprise Todt of this,’ Milch later said. ‘We wanted to present him with a fait 
accompli ,’ 26 In the event, it was the plotters who were taken unawares: Todt was 
killed early in February when his plane crashed on take-off at the Fiihrer’s 
headquarters . 27 Goring, who hurried over, was stunned to be told by Hitler 
that he had appointed thirty-six-year-old Albert Speer to succeed Todt . 28 

Speer successfully warded off every attempt made during the coming 
week to carve up Todt’s former responsibilities . 29 On 12 February Milch put to 
Speer the fait accompli which had been intended for his predecessor: a confer- 
ence of industrialists had been summoned for next morning and Speer might 
like to attend. Milch took Speer to Goring, who emphasized that Speer’s job was 
‘purely army production ’. 30 He would learn the rest at Milch’s big conference 
next day. Speer immediately reported his apprehension about this to Hitler, 
who assured him of his support: ‘Should any attempt be made to gang up 
against you,’ he said, ‘close the meeting and invite all the industrialists to the 
Cabinet Room. I will then address them in person!’ Next morning at the Air 
Ministry the steel magnate Albert Vogler announced to the industrialists the 
need for one overlord over all services, to decide on priorities; the Economics 
Minister, Funk, rose and proposed, to general acclaim, that this overlord should 
be Milch . 31 Before the held marshal could speak Speer leaned across to him and 
whispered softly that he had just asked for, and been given, this very job by 
Hitler. Out loud, he announced that the Fiihrer wished to address them all that 
afternoon in the Cabinet Room; in future, any such meetings would take place 
at his ministry, the Ministry of Munitions . 32 

This was the beginning of the remarkable Speer-Milch partnership. It was 
remarkable for the completeness with which Erhard Milch now urged obedi- 
ence to Speer’s requirements, even though he saw as the months passed that the 
army’s production was being favoured as never before under Todt. And it was 
remarkable too for the cynicism with which it was exploited by Speer to his 
country’s ends. Tall, high-cheekboned and handsome, Speer was Henry Fonda 
to Milch’s James Cagney. A healthy admiration and respect sprang up between 
them — like a tiger and a lion cub. But while Speer’s private chronicle recorded, 
‘Attempted raids on the Minister’s provinces, carried out by various factions 



(Funk, Ley and Milch) during the first days of his office were immediately 
identified and nipped in the bud’, thoughts continued to linger in Milch’s 
mind about this new — and evidently highly protected — opponent, as his pri- 
vate papers show. Was Speer just ‘driven by pathological ambition and hunger 
for power’? 33 He liked the young man personally, and was genuinely impressed 
by his achievements in expanding the aircraft industry’s floor space; yet his 
friendship with Speer was never to be understood. Vorwald, Petersen, Goring’s 
chief adjutant von Brauchitsch — all warned against him. After hearing one 
inexplicable conflict of evidence over Speer’s actions toward the end of the war, 
Milch, at a time of his own black despair, was to write: ‘Seldom have I expected 
too much of anybody, but this time I have been sadly disappointed. I am still 
fighting off this feeling, and hoping for some favourable explanation, but this 
hope springs only weakly.’ 34 

On 13 February 1942 Hitler introduced Speer to the industrialists he was 
to govern. 35 He said that this was an instance where prestige must take a back 
seat, and assured them that he did not intend Speer to remain in charge for- 
ever. When the war had been won he would need him for finer things. In his 
closing words Hitler asked them all to work together, in good heart; and he 
appealed to their ‘sense of decency’ in easing Herr Speer’s task. 36 

Reichsmarschall Goring was already retiring from the war effort and devoting 
himself increasingly to extensive purchasing missions abroad for the art gallery 
he was assembling at Karinhall. His extensive knowledge of art benefited from 
his contempt for the rule of law, and his complicated financial transactions 
boiled down to thievery on a grand scale. While his attitude toward enemy 
persons was humane and soldierly, and the Luftwaffe itself prosecuted cases of 
rape and similar felonies among its ranks with unparalleled ferocity, this awe 
did not extend to enemy property, and Karinhall gradually filled with priceless 
objects culled from every corner of Germany’s expanding domains. 

His state secretary did what he could to step on this thievery. Late in Feb- 
ruary 1942 two crates labelled ‘Glass — with Care’ were found, addressed on 
printed labels to Goring’s office, on the courier aircraft from Athens. Milch 
ordered legal officers to investigate and seized the crates and contents. When 



Goring’s office asked about the missing cargo the legal department replied: 
‘Field Marshal Milch suspects that, as has often happened with his own name, 
some unauthorized person is misusing the good name of the Reichsmarschall.’ 37 
But it was Goring himself who was the smuggler, and he tolerated similar be- 
haviour only among his cronies. General Bruno Loerzer could send trainloads 
of stockings and oranges from Italy and get away with it; others were less fortu- 
nate. The Austrian Luftwaffe General Waver was found to have appropriated a 
bracelet belonging to a female spy, and summarily shared her fate; and when 
another was found to have used Luftwaffe trucks to transport his private booty 
back to Germany during the Third Air Force’s headlong evacuation of France 
he was thrown into a concentration camp and dismissed from the Luftwaffe. 38 

Once when the judge advocate, Kraell, reported on sabotage in a squad- 
ron in Crete, he made the mistake of describing to Goring in moving terms the 
beauty of the Palace of Minos there. ‘That’s coming to Karinhall after the war,’ 
Goring promptly declared. Kraell humbly pointed out, ‘That will pose some 
problems, Herr Reichsmarschall: it measures two miles by one-and-a-half!’ Un- 
abashed, Goring retorted, ‘Have you any idea how big Karinhall’s going to be 
after the war?’ 39 Reichsmarschall Goring was above the law. 

On Milch’s desk there were already the most alarming reports not only of the 
gathering RAF bomber strength but of bomber production in America too. To 
him, air defence rested primarily on the fighter squadrons, but at present the 
Air Staff was calling for only 360 fighter aircraft to be produced a month. 
Fighter production had averaged 250 single- and 64 twin-engined aircraft a 
month during 1941. Milch and his new planning chief von Gablenz wanted far 
greater numbers, and with more bombers as well — not only the 200 He 177s but 
750 Ju 88s of the latest type as well. 40 

Unhappily, Milch also had to fit in the Bomber B. At the end of February 
1942 he and Jeschonnek, the Chief of Air Staff, jointly reaffirmed that the 
Junkers 288 should eventually be adopted as B. 41 Goring initialled the recom- 
mendation (‘Ju 288, agreed. Goring’), but there was more to the problem than 
a simple green-pencil note on a letter margin. ‘In my view the whole Bomber B 
is a misfit,’ Milch was to say in June. 42 But although he regarded the project as 



still-born, he was forced to allow it to stay alive. ‘The aircraft will make sense 
only if its power plant is the [Jumo] 222. I have no idea what kind of aircraft it’s 
supposed to be: it’s not a plane that carries very much; and it doesn’t fly very 
far.’ 43 Already his heart was with the fighter production programme. 

Milch took his ambitious plan for ‘an umbrella over Germany’ to Goring 
and Jeschonnek late in March. ‘Herr Reichsmarschall,’ he said, ‘your total de- 
mand is for 360 new fighter aircraft per month. I fail to understand. If you 
were to say 3,600 fighters, then I would be bound to state that, against America 
and Britain combined, even 3,600 are too few! You must produce more. But to 
demand only 360 fighters!’ He turned a contemptuous gaze on Jeschonnek, but 
the Chief of Air Staff objected violently: ‘I do not know what I should do with 
more than 360 fighters!’ 44 

This brief reply encapsulated the Luftwaffe’s ultimate downfall. It re- 
mained rooted in Milch’s memory for many years, incredible but true. He re- 
turned to it in January r943: ‘I just can’t get over the fact that no more than ten 
months ago 360 fighters were required as maximum.’ (By r943 Milch’s planning 
was already envisaging three thousand fighters a month.) 45 Five months after 
that, with the Ruhr’s great towns in ruins after the RAF’s devastating assaults 
and with the American daylight offensive just beginning, Milch again recalled 
Jeschonnek’s remark: ‘If I had said then, “My plan is that in one and a half years 
the programme will be what it is today — in 1943 — to manufacture around nine 
hundred or a thousand fighters a month”, then everybody would have said, 
“It’s impossible!”’ Milch had achieved this impossible, but he was still not 
satisfied. ‘Even if we were turning out two thousand lighters, they would still be 
greedily snatched up by the squadrons, and there would still be enough work 
for them and for everything that goes with them — armament and fuel. Then 
things would look bloody different in Germany today; these daylight raids 
would be quite impossible.’ 46 

In the spring of r942, however, this ordeal was only just beginning. After a 
very heavy RAF night attack on Paris in which eight hundred civilians had been 
killed, Hitler demanded a heavy reprisal attack on London as soon as the 
weather was suitable. 47 As his anger subsided, however, he cancelled the opera- 
tion. In reply to a question from Goring, Jeschonnek explained: ‘The Fiihrer 



wishes to avoid provoking an attack on Germany’s cities as long as the British 
keep to their present small scale of operations, and we for our part are unable to 
deliver annihilating blows in the west.’ 48 

Precisely a week later, on 28 March, the RAF sent 230 bombers to attack 
the North German medieval town of Liibeck by night, setting it on fire from 
end to end. Milch’s first reaction, when he studied the reports, was that once 
again he had been proved right. The public had done nothing to prevent the 
spread of fires: ‘They all got the hell out of it. Liibeck opposed our civil defence 
measures from the very outset and refused to join in. They kept saying, “No- 
body’s going to attack us.” This is the result — 256 people killed in one raid, 
with another hundred missing and fifteen thousand evacuated. That’s the pay- 
off for their negative attitude.’ 49 He had no doubt that worse was to come. 

One episode throws light on the strained relations between Milch and his sole 
superior. Two days after Liibeck he celebrated his fiftieth birthday and noticed 
with pleasure that for the first time ever Goring congratulated him in person. 
But a document from Goring’s files reveals the hollowness of the greetings: 
Goring’s personal assistant had noted that whatever orders to the contrary 
Milch might have given, the press was to devote special attention to the birth- 
day. ‘Photographs showing the Reichsmarschall with Field Marshal Milch 
should be used in this connection. The Reichsmarschall will himself personally 
congratulate Field Marshal Milch in his office at the Air Ministry at 1 p.m. This 
fact is also to be given prominence in the next day’s press, and particularly em- 
phasized in the photographic and newsreel coverage.’ 50 

And so, while the General Goring regiment played a serenade outside the 
windows and the newsreel cameras whirred, Goring presented to Milch a 
priceless three-hundred-year- old Gobelin tapestry. He whispered that it was 
worth twenty-five thousand marks, and the field marshal replied, equally sotto 
voce, ‘Where was it snitched?’ 

In a personal letter Hitler wished Milch a long life to expand the Luft- 
waffe: ‘In this war I myself have come to value your presence at times when even 
a soldier must somehow keep faith — at times of tension, crisis and anxiety.’ He 
said that he included Milch in that select band of men for whom the word ‘im- 



possible’ did not exist. 51 There was also a cheque for a quarter of a million marks 
to purchase an estate; Milch used it as the deposit on a 740-acre property in 
Silesia. There was inevitably criticism of this gift from his American prosecutors 
at Nuremberg, but Milch replied that such donations were commonplace in 
other countries. Britain gave great estates to the Duke of Marlborough and 
Wellington. But several other gifts he did refuse. He declined two honorary 
doctorates, and when the President of the Aircraft Manufacturers’ Association 
approached him with a gift of fifty thousand marks he politely turned it 
down. 52 The odour of corruption, which had lingered unchecked in the Office 
of Air Armament for so long, had finally been dispelled. 





March-June 1942 

at fifty years of age Erhard Milch had retained his features well. He spoke 
emphatically, his mobile sky-blue eyes were still eloquent, and he flushed easily 
and often when his feelings were aroused. He liked good food and wines and 
smoked cigars endlessly. He was energetic and handsome and a moderate suc- 
cess in Berlin society. He did not neglect his family (although he was now sepa- 
rated from his wife, whom he had married as a young lieutenant in East Prus- 
sia), but neither did he entirely withstand the attentions of other ladies of his 
immediate society. One particularly persistent lady, a golden-haired beauty 
with the blue eyes of Germany’s Baltic provinces, had finally despaired that the 
field marshal would ever gather the fruits while he could and had sent him a 
book about a Hungarian countess, the mistress of a man sharing her passion for 
horses, among other things. On the book’s last breath-taking page Milch’s ad- 
mirer had written, ‘All that could be yours as well!’ 

There was, as Hitler said, no such word as ‘impossible’ in Milch’s vocabu- 
lary. Nothing pleased him more than to be given a great task where other men 
had failed, and to astound all the opponents who predicted that this time he 
must surely fail. One of his best friends, von Gablenz, once described how when 
he reproached Milch for setting unrealistic targets the state secretary replied 
that nothing would shake his faith in the Fiihrer. ‘Even if he commanded me to 
walk across the waves to him, I would unhesitatingly obey .’ 1 



If there was one German aircraft designer who contributed to the change in 
Germany’s fortunes in 1942 it was Messerschmitt. Hitler thought highly of him 
and commented to Milch more than once that the professor had ‘the skull of a 
genius’. Milch did not share this enthusiasm and remained bitterly prejudiced 
against the Bavarian despite every attempt on Messerschmitt’s part to improve 
their relations. He admitted that the designer was entitled to credit for his Me 
109 fighter, and he hoped that with the Me 309, which was due to commence 
production late in 1943, he would again produce a great aircraft. 2 But from the 
Messerschmitt drawing-offices had flowed many ideas which had not matched 
the Me 109’s prewar success. Among some costly white elephants were the Me 
321 and 323: the former was a transport glider, ‘Gigant’, and the latter its pow- 
ered equivalent. Of the Me 32r, designed to carry twenty tons of cargo includ- 
ing a medium-sized tank, Milch reported to Goring late in March 1942 that it 
was a swindle: ‘thirty-six people have already lost their lives test-flying it. Mess- 
erschmitt even went so far as to shoot a film for the Fuhrer’s birthday with 
mock-ups.’ 3 He was equally opposed to Messerschmitt’s other big aircraft pro- 
ject: to meet a r940 demand for a bomber able to fly to America and back, the 
professor had designed the Me 264 — a multi-engined giant on which a big 
team was working at Augsburg. 4 Milch wanted all these projects stopped and 
the really big aircraft design work left to Junkers or Dornier.* 

These problems were only minor compared with the disaster which con- 
fronted the Luftwaffe over the Me 210 twin-engined fighter, high-speed 
bomber and ground-attack plane. Messerschmitt subsequently accepted full 
responsibility for it, and again the company was nearly forced into bankruptcy 
by Milch. Goring later proposed an eventual epitaph for himself: ‘He would 
have lived longer but for the Me 210.’ The aircraft had originally been designed 
by the company’s leading designer, Waldemar Voigt, but the professor had 
adapted Voigt’s blueprints to lessen the aircraft’s weight and wind resistance. 

* Illuminating documents on the incoherence of German aircraft production, design and plan- 
ning will be found in the dossier assembled by Martin Bormann for the purpose of discrediting 
Goring in the summer of 1944: hie 315 of the Schumacher collection, Bundesarchiv, Koblenz. 



Although this produced a radically different aircraft, the ministry (in Udet’s 
time) had ordered one thousand straight away, without waiting for the proto- 
type to fly. Test models went into a flat spin, side-slipped or suffered undercar- 
riage collapses on landing (the professor had substituted a weaker undercar- 
riage than Voigt’s to save weight). 

Since November r94r the Me 210’s failure had brought increasing techni- 
cal and financial embarrassment to the company. Every day trainloads of costly 
components and sections for the aircraft were brought to Augsburg and Re- 
gensburg, yet no finished aircraft were being completed or accepted by the 
ministry. Eventually four thousand workers were laid off, and still the Me 210 
production line was at a standstill. Only one squadron, the second of ZG 1, had 
been equipped, but it had suffered such calamities that they had abandoned the 
aircraft for another. In February 1942 the imbalance between the purchase costs 
of raw materials, half-finished sections and components, and advance payments 
from the ministry was twenty-five million marks, and Messerschmitt’s monthly 
overheads were running at sixteen million marks. 5 

While the company faced ruin, the Luftwaffe still awaited the aircraft. 
Eventually the professor admitted to Goring that the aircraft was not fit for 
squadron service, after seventeen lives had been lost in one week alone. 6 Goring 
threatened to cancel the aircraft altogether. At the company’s factories 370 half- 
finished Me 2ros were lying around, visible to all the workers and staff, and ma- 
terials were coming in for eight hundred more. 7 During an angry discussion 
between Milch, Vorwald and Messerschmitt at the ministry Milch gave the 
professor one last chance: the Me 2ro was to revert to Voigt’s original design. 
Ten samples were to be produced immediately, the first six being delivered by r 
April. Messerschmitt volunteered to begin mass production of this new version 
from 1 May — again a wholly unrealistic promise, since he must have known 
that the ten aircraft could not possibly have been built and tested by then. In 
fact the tests were not completed until September. 

Back in Augsburg Messerschmitt broadcast appeals over the factory 
loudspeakers to his workers, and denied the rumours circulating among them. 8 
He expressly denied that he had fallen out of favour with Goring. But at a staff 
conference in mid-April Milch mentioned the possibility of unseating Messer- 



schmitt before his ‘skull of a genius’ could do them still further damage. He 
sent his chief engineer, Lucht, to inspect the factories. Lucht returned with a 
gripping description of the catastrophic situation he had found: ‘I found Mess- 
erschmitt a broken man. He was physically at a very low ebb and crazy with 
emotion. He was crying like a baby.’ Lucht recommended that Messerschmitt 
should be removed from control. 9 

Milch agreed. He secured Goring’s approval for the Me 210 to be struck 
from the aircraft programme. Only the new sample should be completed for 
trial purposes. When Messerschmitt’s stunned chairman pointed out that this 
meant that the aircraft was finished, Milch agreed. On 25 April all work on the 
Me 210 stopped; throughout the industry the suppliers were ordered to cease 
manufacturing the components. ‘Thus,’ Milch summarized on the twenty- 
seventh, ‘the aircraft can be considered a dead duck.’ 10 He ordered the com- 
pany to continue purchasing the completed equipment, materials, half-cut sec- 
tions and components for the Me 210 from their suppliers, as it was not the lat- 
ters’ fault. Many trainloads of the goods, totalling in all some sixty-eight million 
marks’ worth, reached Augsburg and were stored in hangars on a nearby air- 

All told Milch’s decision cost the Messerschmitt company some thirty- 
eight million marks. The professor’s alterations to Voigt’s designs had cost the 
Luftwaffe over a thousand aircraft at a time when they could not be spared. But 
when the first reconverted Me 210s were completed in September 1942 and 
tested with DB 603 engines, they were found to be magnificent in every way; 
Milch ordered them to be redesignated the Me 410, and in this manner every 
trace of the unhappy predecessor was obliterated. 11 

On the same evening as Me 210 production ceased the RAF carried out the first 
of four violent attacks on Rostock and the nearby Heinkel aircraft factory at 
Marienehe. Nearly two-thirds of the town’s built-up area was gutted by the 
fire-bombs and Heinkel’s production there ceased for the time being. Had the 
RAF used more fire-bombs in attacking the factory the delay would have been 
even more extensive. Milch observed that purely explosive loads were useless for 
attacking industrial targets: ‘A real effect is achieved only by the proper mix- 



ture, dropped over a long period. During the British attack on Rostock a few 
hundred cows, pigs and sheep lost their lives thanks to the stupidity of the 
public, as they took absolutely no action to put the fires out. But if the British 
had really set about attacking Heinkel’s the right way, we would have been 
without any production at Marienehe for the next ten months.’ 12 

These early raids were the storm signals for the future. A new officer, Air 
Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, commanded the RAF bomber force and the 
bomb-loads were aimed predominantly against the towns rather than against 
the factories. In the wreckage of a Wellington bomber examined on the morn- 
ing after the Liibeck attack Milch’s enemy equipment expert, Engineer-Colonel 
Dietrich Schwenke, had found a new electronic device for accurate blind navi- 
gation (code-named ‘Gee’). 13 Angered by Liibeck, in mid-April Hitler com- 
manded the Luftwaffe to carry out ‘terror attacks on towns other than Lon- 
don’. 14 

Milch differed radically from Hitler in his proposals for combating the 
troublesome British bombing attacks by night. Hitler still believed in a strong 
defence by flak and searchlights. The state secretary, although a former artillery 
officer himself, was not enamoured of anti-aircraft artillery: he once calculated 
that besides the huge and costly ground organization it had taken on average 
2,313 rounds of heavy flak and 4,258 rounds of light flak to bring down each 
aircraft they had claimed up to the end of November 1940. 15 Such a barrage 
undeniably had a deterrent effect on the bombers, but the cost, particularly in 
copper, was too high. At a conference with Hitler in January 1942 Milch pro- 
posed that more of these raw materials should be devoted to fighter and less to 
flak production. 16 He argued that they already had enormous stocks of flak 
shells in hand, and despite opposition from Keitel and Jeschonnek he stopped 
production of their aluminium time fuses for three months. When Keitel curtly 
wrote to him protesting that the Luftwaffe was not supplying army factories 
with enough copper for the Fiihrer’s flak programme to be carried out, and 
that Hitler had therefore decreed ‘that the raw materials are to be made avail- 
able’, Milch replied to Keitel with heavy sarcasm: ‘The entire Luftwaffe copper 
quota would suffice to cover 74 percent of the flak programme — provided, of 
course, that all aircraft production ceases.’ 17 Privately he described Keitel’s letter 



as a ‘self-protection’ letter: ‘If anything goes wrong, Keitel himself is covered. If 
you see such a letter in future, and I have written “Self Protection” on it, that 
means it’s somebody without the guts to take responsibility.’ 18 

In his first few weeks of power Milch swept half of Udet’s four-thousand-strong 
staff out of the ministry and into industry, and replaced the old but fashionable 
system of liaison officers by twice-weekly mammoth conferences, great parlia- 
mentary assemblies attended by upward of eighty officers, engineers and in- 
dustrialists. Nobody was kept uninformed any more about planning and re- 
quirements. Reichstag shorthand-typists were called in to keep verbatim short- 
hand records of these discussions. They show that Milch ruled by the lash of his 
tongue, developing an invective that at times was not bettered by Goebbels 
himself. Over every industrialist hung the possible fate of a Koppenberg or 
Messerschmitt; learning that a leading airscrew factory had fallen twenty per- 
cent below target, Milch swept out the managers and put in a Kommissar . 19 
Learning that the Ju 88 had undergone fifty thousand design changes, even 
while under production, he now categorically prohibited virtually all last- 
minute design changes to any production aircraft. 20 Learning that twelve- 
cylinder Daimler-Benz cars were still being ordered ‘for this highly placed per- 
sonality or that’, he persuaded Goring to forbid such non-military production 
at all: ‘Any person working on any peacetime project from now on is liable to 
the death penalty,’ he announced in mid- April. 21 

At the same time he introduced positive measures to increase production. 
He aimed at greater part-standardization of aircraft components, as in America, 
and together with the Industrial Council introduced mass-production tech- 
niques which had not even been thought of in western countries. Multiple 
drilling rigs were designed for a new engine factory at Allach that could per- 
form three dozen drilling operations in one eight-minute stroke instead of the 
thirty hours the old system had required. 22 He tried to shorten the ‘pipeline’ in 
the engine industry and established the air force’s own machine-tool factory. 
Compared with twenty-eight thousand aero-engines turned out in 1941, 
Milch’s factories were to manufacture fifty thousand in 1942. 23 Above all, he 
injected new optimism into his entire ministry. ‘I often aimed high,’ he admits, 



‘but I fired them with confidence in our certainty of ultimate victory, and with 
pride in our work.’ 

A few weeks after taking office as Munitions Minister in February, Speer recog- 
nized that he still lacked influence on air armament. (He had even taken Milch 
with him for his first conferences as minister with the Fiihrer.) Speer decided to 
create a small body comprised in effect of Milch and himself, so that Milch 
could not evade joint responsibility for the rest of the arms production spec- 
trum . 24 Early in March Speer mentioned to the OKW’s General Thomas the 
need for a ‘small body of men gathered round the Reichsmarschall to direct 
central planning policy ’. 25 At the end of the month he took the idea to Goring, 
and from the meeting there emerged a decision to establish a ‘Supreme Court’ 
to control raw materials, beyond which neither the industries nor the services 
could appeal . 26 

This new authority, Central Planning, was to consist of three men — 
Milch, Speer and State Secretary Korner from Goring’s Four-Year Plan office. 
Their task was to find out where the slack in the German war economy was; 
Milch referred to the body, not inappropriately, as a ‘lemon squeezer’. Initially 
Goring gave them control over all raw materials except coal, fuel and synthetic 
rubber. But they had no control over the procurement of labour, for which 
Hitler appointed a separate overlord in the shape of Gauleiter Sauckel, and this 
was to prove a major hindrance in organizing armament in depth . 27 The inclu- 
sion of Korner was symptomatic of Goring’s fear that this body would otherwise 
usurp his powers. Speer was opposed to Korner, but Milch commented pri- 
vately that it was better to have a Goring ‘stool-pigeon’ they recognized than to 
be spied on in some other, unknown way . 28 The decree signed by Goring stated 
that all three members were equal in status, but it was in the nature of things 
that Speer assumed control of Central Planning as time passed . 29 

The field marshal next saw Goring at the Rechlin research establishment 
on n May. He was exceedingly surprised by the ReichsmarschalPs presence — 
his first visit since the famous ‘magic display’ in July 1939. ‘I never really in- 
tended to set foot inside Rechlin again,’ Goring told the Rechlin team, ‘in view 
of the way you engineers lied so damnably to the Fiihrer and myself during the 



display in the summer of 1939. ’ 30 Again he was shown the powerful effect of the 
30-millimetre MK ror cannon. A few days before one fitted experimentally in a 
fighter had blown up a Wellington bomber with one round. This time he saw it 
mounted in a Henschel r29 ‘tank-killer’ aircraft, its shells easily piercing eighty 
millimetres of armour-plate. He recognized in this aircraft the ideal means of 
combating enemy tanks which had broken through the lines. 31 The MK ror was 
the same weapon as had been displayed to Hitler in 1939; the later versions with 
belted ammunition feed, known as the MK m3 and MK ro8, had actually lain 
fallow since then, until Milch had taken over, issuing immediate production 
contracts. But it would be r943 before they entered squadron service. Goring’s 
anger was therefore understandable: ‘I keep searching like somebody demented 
for the devil who fouled up my Office of Air Armament like this.’ And again 
and again he reached the same conclusion: ‘Udet must take the blame — and in 
parts it is enormous — because he was downright incompetent; but I must share 
in that blame myself, because I burdened the man with more than he could 
carry.’ 32 

Of all the heavy aircraft inspected by Goring, Milch and Jeschonnek at 
Rechlin only the He 177 could carry out strategic bombing of Russian targets; 
but it had still not been resolved whether it should be able to dive-bomb, or 
attack on the level only. Indeed it had still not been finally decided whether it 
was better with two or four propellers. 33 

The Germans saw no means of bombing the United States by direct 
flights, but they had studied partial solutions of the problem, such as mid-air 
refuelling or establishing mid-Atlantic staging posts. In mid-r94i preparations 
for mid-air refuelling of bombers had been put in hand: the bomber aircraft 
would take on seven tons of fuel from a second aircraft after flying 2,600 
miles. 34 When Milch asked for his opinion, General Jeschonnek said curtly, 
‘Quite pointless.’ Milch asked to be kept informed should the Air Staff change 
its view. ‘Until then I would request the idea of mid-air refuelling to be put to 
one side.’ He added, ‘There is also some idea of landing in Greenland and top- 
ping up with fuel from a U-boat there. I don’t know how this is visualized pre- 
cisely, but I think it would be far better to fly over, drop the bombs, ditch the 
aircraft and ask, “Which internment camp have you picked for me!”’ 



A few days after his visit to Rechlin Goring, as head of the Four-Year Plan, 
finally persuaded the Fuhrer to adopt radical measures to cure the chaotic 
transport system inside Germany and behind the eastern front. 35 The man who 
had achieved what Stalin’s armies and the RAF bombers had so far failed to do 
was the sixty-five-year-old Transport Ministry official heading the Reich Rail- 
ways, State Secretary Kleinmann. For some time Hitler had protected this man 
and his even older minister, Dr Dorpmuller, and Dorpmuller had rejected 
Speer’s suggestion late in March that Kleinmann should be replaced by a 
younger man. 36 Shortly afterward Milch had been at the Fuhrer’s headquarters 
when Dorpmuller hinted to him that Hitler wanted Milch to put transport in 
order. When Milch saw the Fuhrer immediately afterward Hitler confirmed 
this briefly, explaining, ‘You are a transport expert, after all.’ 37 For some weeks 
Milch heard no more of this. 

By late April a complete seize-up seemed inevitable. The OKW had or- 
dered tens of thousands of coal trucks to be converted to flat tops for trans- 
porting guns and vehicles to the front, since none of the proper flat tops had 
been returned. Hundreds of locomotives had been knocked out by the winter 
through lack of provision for the extreme cold. Once unloaded, nobody had 
bothered to send the wagons back, so now there were over 150,000 of them 
choking the lines behind the eastern front, and fresh, fully-laden trains could 
not get through. 38 The great distances which now had to be covered had dou- 
bled the average running time of a wagon to seven days. In Germany, denuded 
of rolling stock, the crippling coal shortage was threatening to bring the muni- 
tions plants to a standstill: at least seventy thousand coal wagons a day were 
needed to sustain capacity. Within a few weeks major factories would be stand- 
ing idle. 39 The only solution which General Gercke, the OKW’s transport chief, 
could offer (as Hitler later told Milch) was to tip wagons and contents off the 
lines to clear a way, and return the locomotives in convoy to Germany. 40 This 
would hardly help Germany or the fighting front. 

In this situation, Hitler recalled the two men who had already shown their 
ability: Albert Speer, who had developed and produced a heavy anti-tank gun 
in a matter of weeks where the Army Ordnance Office had asked for months; 



and Erhard Milch, who had saved the situation in southern Norway in 1940, 
and had rescued the Luftwaffe from the abyss more recently. ‘Here were the 
men for whom, as for me, there was no such word as “impossible”.’ He sent for 
them both, together with a young Reich Railways district official Speer had 
mentioned to him, and harangued them on the need to overcome the transport 
catastrophe. 41 

He proposed means of solving the railway crisis: turn-round times must 
be shortened, unloading accelerated by the use of prisoners of war, and all un- 
necessary journeys avoided. (Milch later discovered that while the Reich Rail- 
ways were crippled by a shortage of rolling stock, four express trains still non- 
sensically operated every day between Brussels and Paris.) Hitler expostulated, 
‘In wartime we don’t need to transport beer from Munich to Berlin and from 
Berlin to Munich.’ He ordered that rolling stock was to be withdrawn ruthlessly 
from the occupied countries: ‘Here Germany’s interests are paramount.’ He 
wanted to see primitive locomotives and equipment built and extensive repairs 
to existing stock. To achieve all this, he announced, he was dismissing Klein- 
mann as state secretary and replacing him by Dr Ganzenmuller, Speer’s choice. 
Meanwhile, Speer and Milch were to be given dictatorial powers over the entire 
transport system of the Reich. 

For Hitler, only one thing mattered: ‘We must not lose this war just because of a 
transport problem; therefore the problem must be solved.’ Milch and Speer 
solved it essentially within three weeks. While Speer attacked the problem of 
mass producing locomotives and rolling stock, Milch turned his attention to the 
railway and inland waterway systems. If Milch, two days later, was to describe 
his powers in these terms: ‘I have been authorized to string up any railway offi- 
cial from any tree, right up to the highest directors (and I mean it!)’, then this 
was his usual hyperbole; but only just. 42 It was an opportunity to break every 
single railway regulation — the small print on posters in every ticket hall. He 
recognized his familiar enemies — red tape and the centuries-old ‘megalomania’ 
of the legal mind — and attacked them with relish. 

There were the ‘safe load’ regulations — the compositions, heights, 
weights and maximum speeds of loads in railway wagons. ‘The gentlemen in 



charge,’ said Milch, ‘are naturally fully conversant with these safety regulations, 
and know no way round them.’ 43 Armed with Hitler’s authority, he ordered 
the wagons to be overloaded by as much as twenty percent with forbidden 
goods packed at random together, lengthened the trains and despatched them 
to the eastern front at speeds ten or twenty percent above the permitted maxi- 
mum. He ordered the canals and ports of the occupied countries to be searched 
for barges and tugs to take the load off the railway system — and stumbled on 
2,300 assorted barges which had been assembled and converted by the navy for 
the invasion of England in 1940. About five hundred, with a capacity of two 
hundred thousand tons, were still serviceable; Milch ordered them to be towed 
back to Germany and the necessary tugs to be confiscated in the occupied ter- 

When his staff expressed scruples about the morality of this, he retorted, 
‘All of us are bound to one common aim — winning this war. If the Dutch fall 
by the wayside one way or another because we have to survive, that does not 
concern me. I could not care less if every Dutchman froze, drowned or starved 
to death, so long as Germany’s future is assured. You may think this unadulter- 
ated selfishness, to think only about one’s own country. But it is our task and 
our duty.’ 44 He ordered seventy thousand wagons to be allocated to coal trans- 
port daily, before any more wagons were given to the military. He discovered 
that the OKW had been hoarding thousands of wagons for emergency troop 
movements to meet an Allied invasion. ‘In a year’s time that might well hap- 
pen,’ he conceded. ‘But it might never happen. In the meantime the coal nec- 
essary to keep Siemens or AEG from grinding to a standstill is not being 
shifted.’ 45 ‘Stupidest of all are the Wehrmacht,’ he complained on 12 June. 
(And how revealing was this complaint, coming from the Lufthansa director 
turned field marshal!) ‘They have no idea whatsoever about how to do things 
economically.’ If the coal was shifted, production — and that meant arms pro- 
duction — must increase. 46 

A major dictum revoked by Milch was the heresy that this was to be only a short 
war. ‘We have to accept that this is a Thirty Years’ War,’ he warned his own 
staff. ‘Not that this means it will last thirty years, but we must act as though it 



could. I forbid under penalty of extreme punishment any such expression as 
that things still under research or development will be too late to be of purpose 
in this war.’ 47 

Germany’s progress in some fields of research had been confirmed at 
Rechlin. There were two turbo-jet aircraft under development — the Arado 234 
armed reconnaissance aircraft and jet bomber to be powered by four BMW 003 
jet engines; the prototypes were to fly in the coming spring. And there was the 
Me 262 jet fighter, still awaiting its first jet-propelled flight. 48 Milch’s attention 
was also caught by the Argus Tube: months before he had been puzzled to see a 
Heinkel 111 standing at Rechlin with a strange bulbous tube slung beneath one 
wing. The Germans were hesitant even to use it, lest the enemy copy it, because 
its principle was so simple and cheap. Once in flight the Argus Tube drew in air 
through a number of flaps at the front, mixed it with paraffin vapour and ig- 
nited it; the hot air exploded out of the rear, since the compression closed the 
flaps in the front. If the tube was the right length, an organ-like resonance was 
set up, and considerable thrust was developed. ‘Have you any use for it?’ Milch 
had asked Udet at the time. Udet had shaken his head. 49 The original use, as a 
source of brief extra power for Ju 88 bombers, had been disqualified by the 
tube’s own wind-resistance. 

Milch had kept thinking about the Argus Tube. Soon he had linked three 
things in his mind: explosive warhead, automatic pilot and Argus Tube. In May 
he urged his scientists that the Argus Tube was ‘of importance for the future’, 
indeed, as important as the jet engine. ‘What I keep thinking is this: somewhere, 
we set up a conveyer belt production of these Argus Tubes. But first we must 
find a use for them.’ 50 In fact he had already visualized a small, cheap, expend- 
able pilot-less aircraft packed with high explosives, flying faster than the fastest 
enemy fighter plane. A flying bomb, in fact. 

Three days later Admiral Lahs, Chairman of the Reich Society of Aircraft 
Manufacturers, brought an aircraft designer to see him — Robert Lusser. 51 
Lusser’s qualifications could not have been better: he had been thrown out by 
Heinkel, and by Professor Messerschmitt before that. Milch sketched out his 
idea and a few days later the designer returned to his office with a case full of 
drawings and calculations. On that day the flying bomb (later known as ‘V-i’) 



was born. By early June 1942 the project had been code-named ‘Cherry 
Stone’. 52 In its proposed final form it was a small, straight-winged aircraft, with 
the Argus Tube attached to the top of its tailplane. It would carry nearly a ton 
of high explosive, fly at a top speed of 440 miles per hour at low altitude, mak- 
ing it virtually impossible for any modern fighter to catch, and hit any large 
target of about five by three miles at a range of 160 miles. It would descend on 
its target at a speed of 650 miles per hour. If it were launched from France, 
therefore, London would be well within range. 

Against it there was virtually no defence, for it would take a brave fighter 
pilot to come within range of a ton of high explosive and try to blow it up. The 
weapon’s wings contained a special knife-edge for cutting through the tethers 
of barrage balloons. The whole fuselage would be constructed of thin steel 
plate. 53 The beauty of the project was that it used no aluminium, and it was 
fuelled with cheap paraffin. Each such weapon would probably cost only 550 
man-hours to manufacture, plus the cost of the explosive and autopilot. Pro- 
vided that it could be catapulted to an initial take-off speed of over two hun- 
dred miles per hour, its wings could be made short and stubby. The necessary 
catapult was already being developed by experts in rocket propellants; it would 
be ready in the autumn and then the ministry could have the first handmade 
‘Cherry Stones’ completed and ready for testing. Milch selected Peenemiinde, 
on the Baltic coast, as the best location for its trials. 54 

Thus was one opportunity realized by the Luftwaffe; at the same time an- 
other was lost. On 4 June 1942 Milch, Speer and many leading scientists and 
industrialists were invited to hear Professor Werner Heisenberg, the famous 
nuclear physicist, lecture on atomic fission in Berlin. 55 Heisenberg headed an 
atomic research laboratory at the Kaiser- Wilhelm Institute of Physics in the 
capital, and was already experimenting with atomic piles. ‘He described the ex- 
cellent start that they had made,’ Milch recalled in his memoirs, ‘but com- 
plained that nobody took them seriously and supported them.’ 56 Heisenberg 
actually mentioned the feasibility of making an atomic bomb. Milch stood up 
and asked him approximately how large such a bomb would have to be to de- 
stroy a whole city, and the professor replied: ‘About as big as a pineapple.’ 

At this, Speer also became interested and asked what Heisenberg needed 



for his research. In his mind he had a figure of about a hundred million marks 
as being an appropriate sum. 57 Either Heisenberg or his deputy, Professor von 
Weizsacker, replied that they had been asking for some time for an allowance of 
ten thousand marks for building purposes. 58 Speer and Milch exchanged ironic 
looks. The Munitions Minister granted this request immediately. On 7 August 
1945, Field Marshal Milch read the news of Hiroshima, and recalled bitterly that 
afternoon with Speer and the German atomic scientists in Berlin: ‘If Germany 
had discovered this,’ he wrote that day, ‘instead of spending the money on the 
war (the U.S. put the cost at $2,000 million so far), then we could have achieved 
without bloodshed all that we needed, and all we were entitled to.’ $2,000 mil- 
lion was about the amount of money that the Luftwaffe had spent on arma- 
ments in three months of war. 





June-October 1942 

after six months in office Milch had clear plans for the future. His experts 
had told him what the RAF was planning, and from General Botticher, the 
former military attache in Washington, he had heard a detailed briefing on the 
American air force’s plans to assist. 1 Milch asked that the industry develop 
fighter aircraft with greater firepower and aim for supersonic speeds, with jet 
engines eventually; at night their exhausts should be invisible, and there should 
be an effective system of ground control worked out for all the fighters. He 
asked for a purpose-built night-fighter aircraft (the Heinkel 219 seemed most 
suitable), so that the output of medium bombers did not have to be raided for 
this purpose. 

He also asked for a high-speed bomber with a one-ton payload, 650 miles 
of penetration and a top speed of 440 miles per hour and later of the speed of 
sound. Like the new generation of fighters, the bombers must have greatly in- 
creased ceilings of operation, using superchargers and additives like nitrous- 
oxide (‘GM-i’) or alcohol-water injection; by 1943 he wanted the bombers to 
have a ceiling of 45,000 feet, and even more by 1944 or 1945. The bombers were 
to be fitted with exhaust flame dampers, radar devices to warn of enemy fighter 
attack, and to adopt jet propulsion as soon as possible. Long-range bombers like 
the Hs 177 and the generation after that were to be equipped with guided mis- 
siles like He 293 and remote-controlled bombs like Fritz-X for attacking enemy 



shipping in the mid-Atlantic. 2 

These were the tasks to which Milch was to apply himself for the next two 
years. But the Luftwaffe had already lost the initiative. At the end of May 1942 
over a thousand British bombers attacked the city of Cologne in a raid lasting 
about one and a half hours; 469 people were reported killed, over five thousand 
injured and forty-five thousand homeless. 3 

After the failure of the Battle of Britain, this was the second relapse 
Goring’s reputation suffered. Soon he would be looking back with nostalgia to 
1940 and the Luftwaffe’s carefully prepared attacks on Britain. ‘The British have 
learned it all from us,’ he sighed. ‘That’s the most depressing thing about it. 
Except for this electronic warfare side, they have learned it all from us — the 
whys and wherefores of concentrated attacks — they have copied the lot.’ He 
added wistfully, ‘How beautifully they were botching it to start with!’ 4 

Milch also came in for criticism. The Cologne gauleiter reported to Hitler that 
the flak had had to cease fire because of lack of ammunition. Hitler attributed 
this to Milch’s relentless campaign against flak. Milch ordered an investigation 
and established from the local flak battery commander that they had more than 
adequate ammunition, but it was stored too far away. 5 

By mid-June Milch’s planning staff had produced modest figures for 
their possible aircraft production over the next few years, rising from 1,500 a 
month in 1942 to 2,860 in 1945, including 840 bombers, 1,240 single-engined 
and 200 twin-engined fighters. 6 Milch wanted more. From an agent highly 
placed in the British Air Ministry they were receiving regular and (they be- 
lieved) reliable figures on British production. At the end of June he warned 
Goring: ‘Comparison of German aircraft production with the figures available 
to us from Britain shows that the British are making both more bombers and 
more fighters than we are.’ 7 This the Reichsmarschall refused to believe. 

Nor was this all, for the British had begun operating at least one aircraft 
superior to anything known to the Germans — the Mosquito. Colonel Galland, 
chief of the day-fighter squadrons, told Milch that his fighters were completely 
outclassed by it. At the end of May the first such aircraft had been shot down 
and investigated. It was evidently a high-speed, high-altitude bomber, made 



largely of wood. The prisoners captured from the first Mosquito crash stated 
that its top speed was 450 miles per hour, and it could well reach altitudes of 
38,000 feet — a very serious threat indeed. 8 A high-powered intelligence inves- 
tigation of the Mosquito began. A second crashed and completely burnt out, 
but it was clear that it had carried four thousand-pound bombs and had been 
crewed by high-ranking officers.* Milch predicted, ‘I am bound to suspect that 
one day the British are going to start coming with these aircraft en masse.’ A 
few weeks later it was reported that the black-painted Mosquitoes were also be- 
ing used as night-fighters, armed with four cannon and four machine-guns: 
‘This aircraft is going to be the deadliest for us,’ said Milch. 9 

The wooden Mosquito was not his only headache. Three British four- 
engined bomber types had made their appearance — the Lancaster, Halifax and 
Stirling. A Stirling was captured almost intact when it made a forced landing in 
Holland. The Germans repaired the minor damage with parts from other 
Stirlings, levelled out a thousand-yard runway, primed a special crew with in- 
structions from captured take-off papers, and flew the bomber with German 
markings to Rechlin. 10 

The American four-engined bombers were now also appearing in the 
European theatre. In July the B-24 Liberator appeared in North Africa. 11 When 
Schwenke briefed Jeschonnek on the coming armada of American bombers, and 
on the numbers of B-17 Flying Fortresses being ferried across the Atlantic, 
Jeschonnek was positively delighted, and boasted: ‘We will fetch these four- 
engined bombers down just as quickly as the twin-engined ones; and the loss of 
a four-engined bomber means a much higher loss to the enemy.’ 12 

Milch’s own planning foresaw the use of the Me 109, powered by the 1,475- 
horsepower DB 605, as the standard daylight fighter until the Me 309 eventu- 
ally replaced it. As for the FW 190 fighter, its BMW 801D double-row radial 
engine had earlier been unreliable and until July 1942 Milch had not dared 

* The first had been crewed by a squadron leader and wing commander and the second by a 
wing commander and group captain. ‘For the RAF this is quite exceptional,’ Milch was told. 
‘Perhaps they consider this aircraft particularly safe.’ 



hope for too much from the aircraft. The engine was now satisfactory, and in 
July Galland made a very favourable report on the FW 190 to Milch. 13 By this 
time the faults in the troublesome DB 605 engine had been overcome: the over- 
heating of the valves was cured by exchanging them for components with 
greater chrome and nickel content, and a minor adjustment to the ignition 
timing had been proposed. By early summer the crisis with both engines was 
past. The DB 605 was running smoothly and the Me 109G was to prove one of 
the best high-altitude fighters in the world. 14 

As Hitler gathered the Axis forces for the summer offensive in Russia, the 
lunge toward the Caucasus and its oilfields, Milch set out his own philosophy. 
In his view it made more sense to have a thousand aircraft, with something like 
four thousand muzzles between them, than just a handful; not that the extra 
aircraft would cause any extra ammunition to be fired, but by proper use of a 
vast number of aircraft in one operation one could frequently spare the need 
for twenty or thirty others. ‘We saw the proof of this in France. If we had not 
used the means at our disposal correctly, we would have found ourselves in a 
war which would have swallowed up colossal amounts of ammunition. The 
thousand guns too few we had in 1914 would have sufficed to settle the war in 
our favour by that Christmas.’ He added: ‘If we could say today that after six 
months’ winter production effort we had six thousand fighters and six thou- 
sand bombers, instead of just the 1,800, with ammunition, crews and fuel, then 
the war would be over very quickly.’ 15 By May 1942 the position was that the 
Luftwaffe had about 15,000 aircraft, of which 6,600 were scattered along the 
various fronts, 4,300 were in the training schools, 447 in reserve, about 3,000 
under repair and 685 ‘on the way’. (‘Those are the aircraft that have just been 
lost,’ said Milch. ‘They are not on the way, they are just missing — mislaid en 
route .’) 16 

Yet there were insuperable obstacles in the path of increasing bomber 
production — problems of selection, rather than of engine-design. Bomber B 
would not appear for some time; the He 111 was obsolescent, and only the latest 
Ju 88 — which Goring agreed to rename the Ju 188 (‘so that the enemy gets the 
impression it’s something new,’ admitted Milch 17 ) — seemed worth concen- 
trating on. Milch was aware that they were approaching the most important 



season. ‘What we manage to turn out now will still be in time for the great off- 
ensive; what we turn out in four months’ time will come too late for this year’s 
decisive battles.’ 18 His experts told him that if they cancelled Bomber B, but still 
kept the Heinkel 177, they could eventually produce 840 Junkers 188s a month 
instead of the 750 currently projected. 19 To Milch the Ju 188 was incomparably 
a more worthwhile aircraft than Bomber B, when considerations of cost, bomb- 
load and range were borne in mind. Goring shared this view, but both of them 
came up against the stubborn requirement of the Air Staff for the Ju 288, 
Bomber B. ‘It is adequate neither in range, nor in speed, nor in bomb-load, and 
suffers from a number of congenital diseases, particularly in that it is powered 
by two coupled engines, of whose reliability and operation we are still anything 
but convinced,’ Milch grumbled at the end of June. ‘If we add to all this the fact 
that its dive capability is nullified by the big airscrews, then I am at a loss to ex- 
plain why it is required.’ 20 For many months yet, however, Milch was forced to 
sustain the costly Bomber B, an aircraft which was never to fly. 

There was still no prospect of attacking the United States in direct flight, 
but early in August Milch’s bomber expert von Lossberg outlined to him a pro- 
posal for bombing Washington or New York: a Blohm and Voss 222 aircraft 
would fly across the Atlantic and land near a U-boat stationed about eight hun- 
dred miles off New York to refuel and make up its bomb load to eight tons; it 
would repeat the operation one night later before flying back to Europe. 21 The 
navy and the aircraft manufacturer both supported the plan, but not Jeschon- 
nek, who turned it down as impracticable. Milch believed the Chief of Air Staff 
was interested only in the Russian campaign. 

Von Lossberg assured him he would be prepared to make the flight any 
time himself. He proposed predominantly incendiary bomb-loads — in each 
attack they could rain about four thousand fire-bombs on New York. ‘The 2.2- 
kilo magnesium bomb has an explosive segment which detonates after four to 
ten minutes ... If they could be laid in a swathe across New York, and the 
bombs kept exploding round the ears of the fire-fighters like hand-grenades, it 
would have a terrific effect.’ He proposed they attack first of all the city’s Jewish 
quarter or dockyard area; but the project, after being briefly resuscitated in the 
summer of 1944, was never put into effect. 



Plans were drawn up by the Air Ministry for a factory designed for conveyer- 
belt production of a thousand bombers a month; it would employ fifty-five 
thousand workers. 22 Milch told his staff, ‘I want the foundations laid this 
autumn, so that it can commence production at the end of next year . . . Half a 
year from today the war will certainly look quite different from now, so that it is 
by far the best if we make our demands immediately.’ 23 By this he meant that 
the war would have switched its main emphasis to Britain and her allies in the 
west again. Early in August 1942, as German troops launched the first stage of 
their thrust toward Stalingrad, Milch confidently predicted, ‘The major 
fighting in the east will be over by next year; a colonial type of warfare will of 
course continue.’ 24 

This optimism did not last. Milch soon learned that the Russian air force 
would still have to be contended with. Soviet industry was believed to be pro- 
ducing about five hundred aircraft and fifteen hundred aero-engines a month. 
As the Wehrmacht rolled deeper into Russia all summer, they found that the 
Russian aircraft industry had vanished: the whole industrial Donets region had 
been evacuated; aircraft engine plants had been uprooted from round Moscow, 
too, and were probably already producing again. Milch was full of admiration 
for this lightning Soviet industrial evacuation. ‘The Russians are doing things 
we would have said were impossible.’ 25 

All his endeavours to increase German aircraft production ran up against 
his inability to procure and assign fresh manpower, now that Sauckel had been 
put in charge of labour procurement by Hitler. Milch had significantly less 
control over manpower allocation than Speer, who controlled the Armaments 
Inspectorates which recruited local German labour. The problem became more 
urgent in the summer, when Hitler abandoned his undertaking to restore top 
priority to Luftwaffe production in 1943, and advised his Munitions Minister 
that army production ‘must be expedited with the same priority as the Luft- 
waffe’s, even after the successful conclusion of the operations in the east’. 26 At 
this time ninety percent of the aircraft industry was not even able to work a 
second shift because of the labour shortage. 27 In the autumn of 1941 it had em- 
ployed 1,850,000 workers, but the heavy military call-up of the following 



months had reduced it considerably. 28 

The shortage was aggravated by the problem of workers who malingered, 
changed jobs or just hid to avoid regular shift work. It was no small problem: 
from January to June 1942 the air industry had been allocated 403,000 workers, 
but the fluctuation caused by the shirkers was so great that the actual net in- 
crease was only 60, 000. 29 Milch recommended that these people be turned over 
to Himmler’s well-known facilities: ‘He knows how to deal with them even 
though they haven’t broken any laws.’ Meanwhile, Speer built up the effective 
labour force by closing down less essential consumer industries, and Sauckel 
brought in the foreign labour — those from western Europe coming initially on 
a contract basis, and those from the east as slaves. 30 

Milch never neglected the needs of the German public — which, he once in- 
sisted, must be considered first even if the rest of Europe had to starve. He 
considered that the entire economy was being maladministered in the continu- 
ing tussle between the services, the Four-Year Plan and the war industries. He 
had discovered one instance of this military selfishness himself: when the navy 
had protested that it must have greater steel allocations, and the civilian econ- 
omy less, Milch had without warning sent inspectors round some of the navy’s 
biggest shipyards. At the end of August r942 they reported to him that there 
were huge quantities of steel lying round the yards at Wilhelmshaven, Kiel and 
Hamburg; the workers said that the steel had lain there for years. 31 

In September he reported the work of Central Planning to Hitler. 32 He 
protested at the huge sums being spent on armaments, and estimated that forty 
percent of the money was being squandered. ‘If one cannot buy a glass or 
saucepan it does not matter to these people,’ he complained, referring to the 
High Command. 

It’s all right by them that thousands of families today have to cook 
in tin cans. But they themselves must have everything: ten million 
safety razors are manufactured annually for the Wehrmacht, and 
twenty to thirty million toothbrushes! There are only seven million 
soldiers altogether! Twenty to thirty million combs, the same num- 



ber of hairbrushes, and so on. But can any member of the public 
buy combs or hairbrushes today? The war cannot be won by the 
Wehrmacht alone, but only by the whole German nation. 33 

Even as a Luftwaffe field marshal, Milch did not hesitate to take the pub- 
lic’s cause to the seat of the war economy — the Central Planning commission. 
Much has been written of Albert Speer’s opposition to Hitler’s ‘scorched earth’ 
orders in 1945; but that was opportunism, in apprehension of certain defeat and 
not improbably with an eye to the Allied trials to come. Milch’s efforts for the 
German people began much earlier, when victory still seemed possible. The 
controversy in question was Central Planning’s distribution of nitrogen and 
electric power. In short, Milch argued that Speer’s refusal to support the nitro- 
gen needs of agriculture would scorch the earth more effectively, though less 
spectacularly, than any Fiihrer directive. 

It was a double dilemma: the first was that Speer’s explosives factories 
competed with fertilizer production for the available nitrogen supplies; the sec- 
ond was that Speer’s armaments factories competed with nitrogen production 
for the available electric power. In Central Planning, Milch resolutely but un- 
successfully championed the demands of agriculture and the German people. 34 
Speer sided equally relentlessly with the demands of war: the huge losses of the 
previous winter had to be replaced. When the Minister of Agriculture pro- 
tested at this attitude, and particularly at Speer’s decision to switch off the ni- 
trogen plants during the coming winter and cover the 140,000-ton nitrogen 
loss entirely from fertilizer production — ‘the loss of 140,000 tons will result in a 
collapse of our food supplies!’ — Speer replied sardonically, ‘You are free to tell 
this to the Fiihrer; but alone.’ 35 

Milch argued that Germany should now meet all of agriculture’s de- 
mands, since she had built up considerable stocks of explosives: ‘The ground is 
becoming increasingly exhausted.’ Speer refused to share this view, believing 
that in the present situation, with the German army beginning its decisive battle 
for Stalingrad, ‘each ton of explosives is more vital than a ton of cereal’. 36 

In other respects Milch had cause to worry about Speer’s ministry. Despite clear 



standing orders from Goring to the contrary, Speer’s local armaments inspec- 
tors had begun seizing labour from aircraft industry factories in their territory 
for army production. In one case, 120 workers had been drafted from the Fie- 
seler aircraft factory in Kassel into the army programme. ‘Out of the question,’ 
said Milch when told of this. Learning that the culprit had earlier been in the 
Army Ordnance Office, Milch grumbled, ‘The Fiihrer said a few days ago that 
these gentlemen should have read a bit more Karl May and a bit less military 
manual; then they would be fit for something in this war.’ General von Gablenz 
suspected it was Albert Speer himself who encouraged these raiding parties: 
Speer had long held the view that ‘the Luftwaffe comes after the Army.’ Milch 
shut his ears to such talk: ‘It wasn’t Speer,’ he said loyally. ‘It was one of his 
agencies.’ 37 

At the end of August 1942 General von Gablenz was killed in an air crash dur- 
ing a thunderstorm in Turingia. Although Milch continued to inquire hope- 
fully about the cause — after Todt’s death Hitler had ordered the Luftwaffe to 
develop a crash-proof magnetic wire-recorder for the cockpit of such aircraft — 
it was never established with certainty. 38 The pain caused by the loss of yet an- 
other close friend from such a familiar cause really troubled Milch. He unbent 
enough to write one word in his diary: ‘Shocking.’ That evening he met Albert 
Speer at Horcher’s. Speer, fourteen years his junior, put his arm round the 
field marshal’s shoulders and commiserated, ‘This afternoon you lost a life-long 
friendship. Can I offer you a new one?’ The dour field marshal, who had never 
offered the familiar Du to anyone in his life, accepted. 

The remarkable Speer-Milch alliance, which was to last over a quarter- 
century through many vicissitudes, dated from that evening. Indeed, they be- 
came inseparable. It would be hard to imagine a less likely combination. Milch 
was short, stocky, choleric and balding. Speer was a tall ascetic figure, ill at ease 
in uniform; his conversation was polished and intellectual, albeit weakened un- 
der the impact of Milch’s lieutenant’s jargon. The field marshal was rough, ro- 
bust and ruthless, and privately scoffed at the juristic precision with which his 
friend consolidated his empire: ‘His ministry was well known to me for its pen- 
chant for decrees ,’ he was to testify. ‘There were too many experts there and 



each one wanted to issue a decree.’ 39 Milch’s ministry worked by mass confer- 
ence behind guarded doors, at which he could harangue his generals and engi- 
neers from ten in the morning until four or five in the afternoon. Speer copied 
his shorthand-record idea, but mocked the conference principle. When Milch 
later persuaded him to hold joint conferences to hear the Luftwaffe’s most ur- 
gent requirements, Speer’s court historian described: ‘To lend the necessary 
emphasis to these requirements, the Luftwaffe assembled each time in almost 
company strength, so that the large conference room of the Air Ministry was 
only just big enough.’ ‘The quantity of Luftwaffe participants,’ the chronicler 
added sarcastically, ‘appeared necessary in view of the somnolence of the indi- 
vidual members.’ 40 

Yet Milch’s methods worked. By the autumn of 1942 the air industry was 
already producing fifty percent more aircraft, but he could do little to amend 
the existing aircraft projects. A new aircraft took four years from drawing- 
board to squadron, so Milch was still stuck with those begun in 1938. 

Among these was the Air Staff s greatest hope, and Milch’s despair, the 30-ton 
Heinkel 177 heavy bomber and long-range reconnaissance aircraft. Jeschonnek 
wanted at least one squadron to carry out long-range bombing operations in 
Russia, but in May he had advisedly told the Reichsmarschall: ‘For such opera- 
tions the reliability of the engines is of paramount importance.’ 41 Milch wanted 
the bombers for carrying out mass attacks on Allied convoys in the Atlantic, and 
Admiral Donitz wanted the reconnaissance version to enable his U-boats to en- 
gage the transatlantic convoys too. All the technical opinion was unanimous 
that it had magnificent handling characteristics. 42 But by September 1942 only 
102 had been produced, of which the Quartermaster-General had accepted only 
33 for squadron service; and of these, only two were still operational. The 
Daimler-Benz coupled engines were still plagued with faults, and major design 
errors in the airframe were just coming to light. 

‘If one sees how the first He 177 flew on 20 November 1939, and that the 
aircraft are still not in service, one can only weep,’ said Milch at the end of 
August 1942. 43 Goring echoed him: ‘It really is the saddest chapter. I do not 
have one single long-range bomber ... I look at these four-engined aircraft of 



the British and Americans with really enormous envy; they are far ahead of us 
here.’ 44 The principal delay to the He 177 had been caused by the basic require- 
ment that it should be able to dive-bomb. It was tempting to blame Udet for 
this: he had explained to Professor Heinkel in 1938 that there was no future for 
the aircraft otherwise. 45 Milch refused to blame a dead man now: ‘I have never 
done so, on principle,’ he was to say. ‘I have been taught to take responsibility 
for my subordinates; it is all too easy to say once somebody is dead, “It was an 
error of leadership”. We must not assume so here.’ 46 Even so, he deeply regret- 
ted the delay. How many He 177s they would have had by the end of 1942 oth- 
erwise! ‘What still has some small effect in 1943 would have had a major effect in 
1942, and a decisive effect in 1941. ’ 47 

One basic error Udet had committed was to trust Heinkel too implicitly. 
At the beginning of 1942 Lieutenant-Colonel Petersen had visited the factory to 
investigate the delay. The works staff complained that the professor devoted all 
his attention to the profitable He 111 series, ‘and devotes no capacity to the He, 
177’. As the original serial production order had been cut back to five He 177s a 
month pending the solution of all the problems, this was only human. 48 In Feb- 
ruary 1942 the first engine- fire had occurred, and since then the aircraft had 
been dogged by outbreaks of fresh faults about every three months. 49 By the 
summer it was obvious that the wing structure had been wrongly designed, for 
it could not withstand the stresses of diving; Heinkel himself woke up to this 
only after the first wing fractured in August. Meanwhile, Petersen had ordered 
over 1,300 minor modifications as a result of the flight trials. These modifica- 
tions were carried out with ‘catastrophic lethargy’ by the factory: ‘We have 
proof,’ Milch was later told, ‘that from the time of the conferences concerned 
Heinkel took three months before he even began to attend to minor modifica- 
tions to the prototypes.’ 

Milch knew that only a major change could save the aircraft; by this he 
meant dropping the dive requirement, and making the bomber a pure four- 
engined aircraft, instead of using two coupled engines. 50 But his development 
staff pointed out that this would mean a completely new aircraft, and that 
would take four years to realize. 51 So the coupled-engine version was retained, 
while engineers struggled to prevent the engines — first the DB 606, later the 



DB 610 — from catching fire in mid-air. 

Goring had always believed that the aircraft was a pure four-engined de- 
sign. When he saw the strange new beast that had developed by the time he 
visited Rechlin in May 1942, his anger knew no bounds. ‘I have never been so 
furious as when I saw this engine. Surely it must be as clear as daylight! How is 
such an engine to be serviced on the airfields? I believe I am right in saying you 
cannot even take out all the sparking plugs without pulling the whole engine 
apart!’ 52 The shock took him months to get over. Much later he still reproached 
his state secretary: ‘It is absolute stupidity. I told Udet right from the start I 
wanted this beast four-engined as well. At some time or other this crate must 
have been in a four-engined form . . . Nobody mentioned this hocus-pocus 
with two welded-together engines to me at all. A charming surprise that was for 
me.’ 53 

Throughout the summer the He 177 crashes continued. In mid-June, as Milch 
and Speer visited Peenemiinde research establishment to watch an (unsuccess- 
ful) launching of Wernher von Braun’s A4 rocket missile, they saw a brand- 
new He 177 taking off with four tons of bombs on a test flight; after it had flown 
out of sight, it banked steeply to the right and side-slipped into the ground 
from five hundred feet up, killing everybody aboard. ‘The investigation has 
shown that a coupling sleeve broke on the propeller shaft,’ Petersen reported to 
Milch, and he added that a week before the very same sleeve had snapped on 
another aircraft before it could take off. Not only had this incident been kept 
secret by Heinkel and Daimler-Benz, but six identical cases had been uncovered 
during the factory’s test programme. 54 

In the meantime, production suffered. Only two He 177s were operational. 
‘It’s no use,’ said Milch in mid-August. ‘The question is, can we leave Heinkel — 
who bears most blame for this with his Oranienburg factory — in charge?’ He 
sighed and added, ‘On the other hand, he has done much good for us.’ 55 Pro- 
fessor Heinkel claimed he needed more designers, but to Milch this was an all 
too familiar ploy. ‘The cause is not the manpower situation,’ he said on the 
twenty-sixth, ‘but the complete failure of the Heinkel company, a failure for 
years in this field. There’s just no excuse for it.’ 56 



Three weeks later Goring made a speech to the aircraft industrialists which left a 
very bitter taste in their mouths. 57 Messerschmitt and Heinkel were the princi- 
pal objects of Goring’s scorn; he reserved his most biting comments for the 
Heinkel 177 bomber and for its coupled engines. ‘The things they told me!’ 
Goring mocked. ‘I asked them, “Why not go over to a pure four-engined 
type?” And they told me, “No — four-engined types are passe now; it is far bet- 
ter to have only two airscrews.” So I said, “Well, well! The enemy is proving 
quite a nuisance to me with his four-engined types, they are a deadly nuisance.” 
Not so, is the reply: “We are doing things differently. We are putting two to- 
gether, or two in tandem.”’ 

When Milch pointed to General Jeschonnek’s requirement — that the 
bomber should dive — as the root of all the evil, Goring apologized that in that 
case the firm was exonerated. But he added, ‘It is straightforward idiocy to ask 
of a four-engined bomber that it should dive. Had I been told of this for one 
moment, I should have exclaimed at once: what kind of nonsense is that! But 
now we are stuck with it.’ He asked Professor Heinkel, ‘Are you going to man- 
age, or is it quite hopeless?’ Heinkel assured him that the engine-fires were as 
good as cured and explained: ‘The airframe has to be strengthened for the 
dive-bombing.’ ‘It does not have to dive,’ thundered Goring. Heinkel, as as- 
tounded as Milch by this swift decision, replied, ‘Then it can go straight to the 
squadrons.’ Three more times Goring repeated that the bomber was not re- 
quired to dive; he wanted it only for carrying torpedoes and the guided missiles 
like Hs 293 and Fritz-X to shipping targets far out in the Atlantic, and for occa- 
sional raids at high-level on targets like Sverdlovsk. Milch gratefully repeated 
this decision to his staff: ‘The Reichsmarschall has ordained that dive-bombing 
by the He 177 is no longer a requirement. He has quite properly described this 
requirement as crazy, and prohibited it.’ 58 

In the meantime, despite Professor Heinkel’s assurances, design faults 
were still encountered. In investigating yet another accident, Milch’s engineers 
discovered still more weak spots in the main wings, which tended to buckle un- 
der stress. ‘That’s no minor fault,’ erupted Milch when he was told. ‘That’s a 
major foul-up!’ 59 Early in October Major Scheele, commanding one of the 



prospective He 177 units (the first squadron of KG 50), refused to take respon- 
sibility for sending the aircraft out on operations. When a ministry engineer 
cited none the less expert opinions that the He 177 was otherwise the best air- 
craft in the world, Milch could only snarl: ‘What use is the best aircraft in the 
world if it can’t stop falling apart? What use is the finest racehorse if it displays 
the best speed over two hundred yards and drops dead after three hundred!’ 
In one graphic phrase he characterized the medical history of this bomber: 
‘First of all we tried a minor ear operation. Then we cured its teeth. And now 
we find it’s got a chronic heart ailment and is probably being kept alive only by 
artificial means.’ 

Very soon after Goring’s tirade about Allied superiority, Milch was brought 
firm evidence of just this. The B-17 Flying Fortress had now reached them; it 
was clearly designed for daylight operations. 60 By early October the remains had 
been reassembled at Rechlin. There were altogether eleven heavy machine-gun 
positions in the bomber, loaded with a hitherto unknown incendiary ammuni- 
tion. Colonel Galland was full of praise for this dangerous aircraft: ‘It unites 
every possible advantage in one bomber: firstly heavy armour; secondly enor- 
mous altitude; thirdly colossal defensive armament; and fourthly great speed.’ 
Others echoed this praise. In formation the B-17 was virtually impregnable — 
they had managed to collect this sample only when it drifted out of forma- 
tion. 61 

At the same time a second daylight threat was developing: an exhaust tur- 
bine had been clearly identified on photographs of a B24 Liberator bomber; this 
would greatly increase its attitude. ‘These are worries I just cannot get over,’ 
Milch said late in October. ‘We have got to accept that one day the enemy 
bombers attacking Germany will be flying at altitudes of 28,000 or 30,000 feet.’ 62 
From another Boeing crash they had recovered almost intact the famous Nor- 
den bombsight (of which a German agent in America had procured the blue- 
prints before the war); this left no doubt as to the Americans’ potential bomb- 
ing accuracy. From the American bomber production figures and from the 
reconnaissance photographs of extensive new bomber airfield construction in 
eastern England, it was clear that 1943 would see the onset of a crushing bomb- 



ing offensive from both the RAF and their American allies. 

On n October the field marshal took Goring a dossier on this coming 
Armageddon. Jeschonnek refused to modify his careless attitude toward the 
American bombers, and Goring also refused to take Milch seriously. A few days 
later Milch related with some concern to his own staff, ‘The Reichsmarschall 
told me that there is no cause for anxiety about the American aircraft and that, 
four-engined though they may be, we can contemplate the future with equa- 
nimity. I told him that I do not agree .’ 63 





October-December 1942 

as a patriot, Milch adopted a firm line on treason. The word covered many 
sins, from the action of the since-discredited Engineer-General Reidenbach 
back in 1941 in ordering nearly a million of a certain component not used any- 
where in the Luftwaffe, to the active dispensation of secrets to the enemy. 1 
Milch’s attitude toward traitors, even when accidental, was brief and final. 
When a Panzer division’s operations officer crash-landed behind Russian lines 
in a Storch (the enemy murdered him and captured his papers, revealing the 
offensive beginning nine days later) Milch showed no pity: ‘He would have 
been sentenced to death anyway.’ 2 

Not without reason he suspected treachery all round him. He warned his 
own staff, ‘There are recalcitrants everywhere, and traitors. Nobody knows 
where the next one sits, ready to betray you!’ It speaks volumes for his judge- 
ment of character that he privately suspected the loyalty of the Abwehr (mili- 
tary counter-espionage) organization directed by Canaris. He thought little of 
Canaris. The Admiral had once visited him clutching a lump of pressed coal. 
‘What’s that, Canaris,’ he had joked, ‘are you going to set fire to me?’ ‘It’s a 
bomb!’ replied Canaris earnestly. ‘We are going to sabotage the ships of the en- 
emy!’ 3 The field marshal placed his faith in the Gestapo. ‘The traitors are lucky 
that I am not head of the Gestapo,’ he once said. ‘Then there would be far more 
death-sentences.’ 4 



Treachery was even closer than he suspected. In the autumn he was in- 
formed that the Gestapo had uncovered a large communist spy ring, the ‘Red 
Orchestra’, with its seat in the Air Ministry and Milch’s own Office of Air Ar- 
mament . 5 About seventy people were rounded up and indicted. The agents had 
established numbers of wireless transmitters and had passed to the Soviet Union 
information on planned paratroop operations, the latest positions of Hitler’s 
and Goring’s headquarters, details on the withdrawal of flak defences and much 
else. One merchant had simply walked from room to room of the ministry col- 
lecting production and casualty figures; fortunately, he had confused produc- 
tion targets with actual achievements. ‘That’s probably just as well,’ Milch com- 
mented. ‘Otherwise I would have been ashamed of such low figures — the en- 
emy would have laughed at us !’ 6 

Kingpin of the ‘Red Orchestra’ was Lieutenant Schulze-Boysen of the Air 
Staff s intelligence branch, whose wife was grand-daughter of the Prince of 
Eulenburg. Colonel Stumpff, the prewar chief of personnel, had turned him 
down for a commission because of suspected communist sympathies, but the 
Prince himself had intervened with Goring, and Goring had overruled 
Stumpff . 7 Learning the full details of the spy ring, Milch was shocked at the 
numbers of the nobility involved. ‘The harmless Central European might say, 
“There goes the daughter of So-and-So — the family has given generations of 
fine officers to the state. Impossible to think wrong of her!”’ He shook his head. 
‘Not so, unfortunately, not so. The father may well be a fine, outstanding gen- 
tleman, and the son can be a swine.’ With grim satisfaction he added, ‘Of 
course, they are all for the high jump. The lot of them.’ 

He announced new precautions for the ministry. In future everybody 
must submit to spot-checks and X-rays as they left the building. He betrayed 
his deep suspicions of the Abwehr too: ‘The X-rays will be worthwhile only if 
they are made by the Gestapo. I forbid any kind of X-raying by the Abwehr, as 
otherwise we have no guarantee that it will be a “successful” X-ray.’ Seeing the 
curious faces round the table he continued, ‘The whys and wherefores I cannot 
say. But I have my reasons .’ 8 

Goring did nothing to halt the drain on the aircraft factories’ skilled labour. In 



October 1942 the OKW ordained a further major call-up for the army. ‘The 
Fiihrer says, quite rightly, “I want more soldiers”,’ complained Milch, ‘and then 
everybody about him bows in unison and murmurs Jawohl and they simply 
grab more workers from our factories. I would like to know how many of the 
army’s millions are really in the front-line areas! I doubt if there are more than 
twenty percent of the infantry at the front; the other eighty percent are some- 
where in the rear.’ 9 

To fill the gaps in the factories, air industry workers were switched by 
Speer to army armaments production before Milch could protest, and foreign 
labour was brought in. Gauleiter Sauckel was given sweeping powers by Hitler 
to procure more labour from France, and these produced absurd anomalies: as 
the biggest airscrew manufacturers were preparing to send German workers to 
a factory in France, Sauckel was busy press-ganging French workers from the 
same factory. Other German workers sent to Paris factories were recruited by 
the OKW as soon as they arrived there. Of two hundred men working on FW 
190 engines in Paris, Sauckel seized fifty overnight to deport to Germany. 10 

None of Milch’s counter-measures helped. In desperation individual fac- 
tories turned to Himmler’s concentration camps for manpower. 11 The Heinkel 
company obtained six thousand prisoners from Oranienburg concentration 
camp to work on the He 177, and these were followed by thousands more for 
other Heinkel factories. 12 Messerschmitt’s opened direct negotiations with Da- 
chau concentration camp for three thousand prisoners for the Augsburg 
works. 13 Nobody else would appreciate the air industry’s predicament. Speer 
recognized the malady, but could diagnose no cure. ‘In every offensive, we lack 
just ten percent,’ he warned. ‘If we cannot manage that ten percent more this 
winter, by next summer our position will have deteriorated so much that we 
will be reduced to a war of attrition.’ At the end of October 1942 Speer men- 
tioned to Milch: ‘I spoke with Goebbels recently. He is of the opinion that the 
public is actually waiting to be inspired to this last great effort. The public often 
has a much better sense of realism than the self-opinionated middle classes. The 
public has recognized that this final effort is not being made.’ 14 

Two months earlier the German armies had reached the River Volga and the 



outskirts of Stalingrad, and a long, exhausting struggle for this focal point had 
begun. As the Russians massed for an autumn offensive, Hitler appealed to 
Milch to mount a superhuman effort against the Soviet targets, bringing in the 
newest aircraft — even if they were still imperfect. Jeschonnek wrote to Milch: 
‘In the last few days the Fiihrer has several times referred to the He 177 aircraft 
and said that he would attach particular importance to sorties by this aircraft in 
the eastern theatre, however primitively carried out.’ 15 

The air force was heavily committed to supplying both the Afrika Korps 
under Rommel and elements of the army groups on the eastern front. When 
the Russian offensive broke as anticipated across the River Don on 19 November 
1942, the latter commitment was suddenly extended: within four days the Ger- 
man Sixth Army under Colonel-General Paulus was encircled at Stalingrad. 
Hitler ordered the Fourth Panzer Army to the relief, but if the Sixth Army was 
to hold out, its three hundred thousand men would have to be supplied by 
air. 16 Colonel-General von Richthofen, commanding the Fourth Air Force 
which would have to operate this airlift, noted that Paulus believed such an 
operation feasible, but he told his superiors he could not share this view. 17 Had 
either Goring or Jeschonnek firmly challenged the proposal, Hitler would cer- 
tainly have abandoned it and ordered Paulus to fight his way out of the encir- 
cling ring; but the proposal passed unchallenged at this stage. 

Initially the Sixth Army asked for three hundred tons of fuel and thirty 
tons of ammunition a day; later they would need 150 tons of foodstuffs a day as 
well. This would require up to eight hundred Ju 52 transport aircraft, taking 
the very low serviceability on the eastern front into account. In the entire Luft- 
waffe there were only some 750 Ju 52s, several hundred of which were supplying 
Rommel’s forces in Africa. Milch had warned all summer that the Air Staff re- 
quirement of only sixty new transport aircraft a month was totally inadequate. 
Now the gap would have to be bridged by temporarily converting He 111 bomb- 
ers for transport purposes. 18 When Hitler telephoned Goring on 23 November 
to question him about an airlift, the latter, unprepared for such a question, 
agreed it sounded possible. 19 That afternoon he told his staff officers that he had 
given the Fiihrer his word that the Sixth Army could be supplied by air. Every 
transport aircraft available was to be mobilized for this purpose — he himself 



was providing his own courier flight. There was no discussion. 20 The huge op- 
eration began next day. 

In the hours that followed, Hitler ordered Paulus to stand fast until relief 
arrived; meanwhile air supplies were being mobilized. If Goring made any con- 
ditions — about the stabilization of the front line, about prolonged fine weather 
or the limit of the airlift’s duration — these were not adequately heeded in the 
optimistic climate his undertaking had induced. He repeated on the twenty- 
fifth that the Luftwaffe could deliver an average of five hundred tons of sup- 
plies a day, assembling every possible aircraft, including Lufthansa’s precious 
four-engined Ju 90s for this purpose. 21 Hitler waved aside the new-found pes- 
simism of Jeschonnek and the outright opposition of the Luftwaffe representa- 
tive Colonel Christian next morning, assuring them ‘it was all a matter of time’, 
and that ‘a particularly gifted organizer would manage things, equipped if need 
be with ruthless powers, and despite whatever obstacles the generals opposing 
the airlift (von Manstein and von Richthofen) might put in his way.’ Goring 
left for Paris. 22 

‘Wars can only be won by air power,’ Milch hammered into his staff as the new 
year, 1943, came. ‘You will lose every war, in fact, if you do not have air superi- 
ority — not in all God’s skies, but where you need it, in the Schwerpunkt. For 
ground forces without air superiority or air supremacy it is impossible to attain 
victory.’ How well the setbacks Rommel had suffered since the British capture 
of Tobruk illustrated this: ‘He had to retreat, and for no other reason than that 
it was not possible, for logistics reasons, to establish German air superiority over 
the British.’ 23 

The aircraft industry was now producing fifty percent more aircraft than 
in r94r; the increase had only just begun, but it was still not enough. From his 
experts Milch had assembled the comparable figures for Britain, Canada and 
the United States both for 1942 and for the next two years. Where Germany 
had averaged 367 fighters a month in 1942, these countries had averaged 1,959; 
where Germany had averaged 349 bombers, the enemy had averaged 1,378, of 
which many were four-engined. 24 ‘God knows what the enemy is planning with 
this enormous number of bombers,’ pondered Milch. 



He took these ominous figures with him when he went to see Goring on 4 
January, confronting the Reichsmarschall across the vast desk in his study with 
this proof of the enemy’s capabilities. Goring, however, believed in the Ffihrer 
and the Ffihrer had once said: ‘The simplest logic, my dear Goring! The Ameri- 
cans cannot have anything up their sleeves. They know how to make refrigera- 
tors and razor blades, and that’s all.’ 25 Goring turned the pages back and forth, 
then angrily challenged, ‘Have you joined the defeatists now, Milch? Do you 
believe these fantastic figures?’ Milch replied that he had every confidence in 
them. ‘I don’t want to be bothered with such rubbish,’ bawled Goring. ‘We 
can’t work miracles, so neither can they.’ 26 His attitude recalls the humorous 
lines of Christian Morgenstern about an equally blind optimist: 

And thus in his considered view 

What did not suit could not be true. 

Milch reported this encounter to his department heads next morning. 
‘The Reichsmarschall says — and he does not fully agree with me on the figures 
as he thinks they will manufacture fewer — “Even if they do reach these figures, 
it won’t help them in Africa if they cannot keep the aircraft supplied, and that 
means shipping space.’” 27 Goring, like Milch, saw the Luftwaffe’s principal 
strategic objective now as attacking the enemy’s shipping. ‘That is his aorta, and 
if we sever it he must bleed to death. And then let’s see if his God and his 
praying can help him! If he is to maintain an army from America or Britain, he 
must supply it, too.’ But for this the He 177 bomber was indispensable. Both 
ends of a rapidly closing vicious circle were now becoming apparent. 

Milch’s own ideal was a totally different aircraft. For months he had been look- 
ing for a design for a high-speed, twin-engined bomber or heavy fighter air- 
craft capable of speeds up to five hundred miles per hour. 28 In December 
Junkers’s Professor Hertel had shown him one promising design which put 
both engines in one fuselage, powering two airscrews on the same axis — the 
shaft of one passing through the centre of the shaft of the other. Milch foresaw 
technical problems with this design. 29 



In the first week of January 1943, however, Professor Claude Dornier vis- 
ited him with sketches of a strange aircraft, the Do 335. Like Hertel, he put both 
engines in the fuselage, but instead of driving two airscrews at the front, Dorn- 
ier’s design foresaw one in front and another at the tail of the fuselage. Milch’s 
chief of technical development had turned the idea down, but Dornier pre- 
dicted that his aircraft would fly at over 470 miles per hour, and Milch knew 
him as a designer who kept his promises. Something clicked inside him: after a 
lifetime in aviation he sensed that this was a project which must work. He gave 
Dornier an immediate order for twenty Do 335s; from it developed one of the 
fastest propeller-driven aircraft in the world. 30 

Field Marshal Kesselring later wrote that, had Milch replaced Goring at 
this time, the end of 1942, the Luftwaffe could still have been saved. 31 There is 
no doubt that Milch was nearing the summit of his achievements. Yet another 
honour was bestowed on him. The Chairman of Lufthansa, Emil-Georg von 
Stauss, had died shortly before Christmas, and in mid-January Milch was 
elected to succeed him. 32 Thus the beginning of 1943 saw him charged with 
these high offices: State Secretary, Inspector-General and Deputy Commander- 
in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Director of Air Armament, and Chairman of Luf- 

He was about to be charged with a very different commission, one which 
was to tax his courage and ability to their utmost. 




After Stalingrad, Speer said: ‘The trouble is that 
what with the Atlantic Wall, the eastern fortifications 
and so on all construction in the Reich is virtually 
stifled. Today, eastern fortifications are more impor- 
tant than building projects in the Reich, because with 
them I can spare labour, fuel 

‘The only raw material which cannot be restored 
in the foreseeable future,’ observed Milch, ‘is human 
blood ’. 1 




January-February, 1943 

twice already hitler had acclaimed Field Marshal Milch as a man for whom 
the word ‘impossible’ did not exist. In mid-January 1943 he put this to the test. 
Milch was ordered to save the Sixth Army, which the Fiihrer’s stubbornness, 
Paulus’s docility and Goring’s vanity had trapped in Stalingrad, encircled by 
Soviet armies, while the eastern front receded ever farther from the beleaguered 
city. 2 

If one man had the drive, the tongue and the personal ruthlessness to 
save the situation, then he was Milch. His efforts were to raise his personal status 
to such a level that he could afterward deliver Hitler the frankest lecture that he 
can ever have heard from a subordinate. 

Von Richthofen’s Luftflotte had organized a force of Ju 52 transport air- 
craft on the airfield at Tatsinskaya, each capable of carrying about two tons of 
supplies over the 160 miles to Stalingrad. A further force of He 111 bombers, 
which could carry about one and a half tons of supplies in ‘supply bombs’, was 
centred on the equally makeshift Morozovsk airfield, about 130 miles from 
Stalingrad. Goring’s promise entailed landing three hundred aircraft at Stalin- 
grad every day — an average of one every two and a half minutes. Much there- 
fore depended on the ability of the Sixth Army to unload the aircraft and dis- 
tribute the supplies in time. By early December 1942 ten squadrons of Ju 52s 
(including eventually six hundred Ju 52s withdrawn from the air training 



schools) and various units of Ju 86s, FW 200s, Ju 90s and other aircraft had 
been assigned to the airlift. Some Ju 290 prototypes had also arrived — big four- 
engined transporters capable of carrying ten tons of supplies into the fortress 
and returning with seventy wounded soldiers. The aircraft losses had been 
frightening, and it was great testimony to Luftwaffe morale that the airlift had 
been sustained at all, for once an aircraft was written off in Stalingrad its crew 
knew that they would never get out. 

During December General Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army had begun its re- 
lief drive toward the city, but in the middle of the month a sector of the front 
held by the Italian Eighth Army collapsed. Hoth’s advance was halted, and on 
Christmas Eve Russian tanks overran Tatsinskaya airfield as the last of the 124 
transport aircraft there escaped. Two more airfields were lost early in January as 
Field Marshal von Manstein withdrew the front still farther. The transport 
squadrons had to fan back onto airstrips like Novocherkassk, 220 miles from 
Stalingrad. Much of the cargo had to make way for extra fuel and the number 
of sorties they could fly each day was reduced. In Stalingrad, meanwhile, Pau- 
lus’s troops had begun to starve. Their commanders were already talking about 
their ‘betrayal’ by the Luftwaffe. There were few homes in Germany unaffected 
by the drama. 

Milch’s Stalingrad mission began late on 14 January 1943, when Bodenschatz 
telephoned from Hitler’s headquarters, ordering him to report there immedi- 
ately. Hitler wanted him to take over the airlift to the Sixth Army. By way of 
warning Bodenschatz added that until now Goring had been claiming that 
Milch could not be spared. Now the Fiihrer had lost patience and overruled 
him. 3 

The field marshal took hurried leave of his staff, detailed his personal 
physician and Colonel Petersen to accompany him, and set out. As Albert Speer 
drove him to the Dornier parked on Gatow airfield he begged Milch to search 
for his younger brother, Corporal Ernst Speer, believed to be in a field hospital 
somewhere within ‘fortress Stalingrad’. 4 

At Hitler’s war conference that evening Milch recognized the catastrophic 
situation at Stalingrad for the first time. The fortress’s last good airfield at 



Pitomnik had just fallen into enemy hands. Hitler stressed to him the strategic 
importance of the mission: about three hundred tons were to be flown in daily 
if the city was to be held; this would bind numerous large Russian formations 
which would otherwise be elsewhere employed. He issued special powers to 
Milch, giving him authority to issue orders and instructions to every military 
command . 5 There is evidence that Hitler believed Stalingrad could hold out for 
another six to eight weeks.* As Milch left, Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant, Major 
von Below, appealed to him to search for his brother-in-law, one of Paulus’s 
trapped army. 

Over thirteen hundred miles separated Hitler’s headquarters from the 
Black Sea town of Taganrog where von Richthofen and von Manstein had es- 
tablished their respective headquarters. Milch and his staff covered the distance 
in five hours. As their two aircraft landed it was snowing heavily and there was 
an icy gale blowing; the same forbidding weather conditions were to prevail for 
several weeks. At this stage he may not have been alarmed by the cold. Ever 
since October r942 he had believed the Luftwaffe need not fear this second 
winter on the eastern front . 7 Since that spring a special commission had toured 
the squadrons, gathering experience for the coming winter. Milch had person- 
ally supervised the preparations. He had ordered three thousand prefabricated 
wooden huts for the airfields, most of which had been shipped to the front by 
late summer so they would arrive before the snowfall . 8 Tens of thousands of 
chemically heated bags, muffs, electric blast heaters and special ground- crew 
overalls had been despatched; fitters had installed cabin heaters in the airborne 
and ground ambulances. (T do not want our injured to be transported back in 
open trucks for five days in thirty degrees of frost as they were last winter.’ 9 ) 

Yet there was a factor he had overlooked — the human factor. He could 
not control the will-power of the Luftwaffe troops to struggle on; nor could he 
instill proper leadership and humanity into their commanders. Indeed the 
news that Milch, the organizer, was on his way evoked consternation at Tagan- 

* Thus Speer, chairing Central Planning on 26 January, excused Milch’s absence ‘as he has 
been given a particularly important mission by the Fiihrer on the eastern front, which will 
occupy him for the next six to eight weeks.’ 6 



rog. General Fiebig, commanding the Eighth Air Corps, commented in his di- 
ary: ‘There is not much else to organize, for we can only drop supplies from the 
air from now on — a matter of pure chance.’ 10 And when his superior, von 
Richthofen, angrily protested to headquarters, Jeschonnek assured him that 
Milch was just the Fiihrer’s last attempt to save the Sixth Army. The Luftflotte 
commander caustically observed in his diary: ‘Nothing would delight me more 
than that Milch should chance upon the Philosopher’s Stone which our su- 
preme authorities evidently believe is lying round here somewhere. Certainly 
we have not found it.’ 11 

By the evening of r6 January Milch had arrived in von Richthofen’s warm 
and well-equipped command train. ‘He is completely misinformed about the 
technical and tactical situation,’ von Richthofen gloomily noted, ‘and hence he 
is still quite optimistic.’ 12 Milch immediately summoned the Luftflotte staff to 
report on available aircraft and units. For the first time he learned that far fewer 
transport aircraft were serviceable than was assumed at Hitler’s headquarters; a 
truly staggering percentage, particularly of the Junkers transports, was immo- 
bilized by the cold. Aircraft availability at that moment was as follows: ho Ju 52s, 
of which only fifteen were operational; 140 He ms, of which only forty- one 
were operational; twenty FW 200s, of which only one was operational. Only 
seven Ju 52s and eleven He rrrs were actually scheduled to fly to Stalingrad that 
evening. 13 

About 5,300 tons of supplies had been lifted into the fortress, an average 
of about one hundred tons a day. Richthofen privately advised Milch that he 
had warned all along that the airlift was ‘impossible’, and now that Pitomnik, 
the fortress’s last good airfield, had been overrun it was madness to continue. 14 
The loading airfield at Sal’sk was 220 miles from Stalingrad, and if Novo- 
cherkassk were lost the fortress would be beyond Heinkel range. The Ju 52s were 
already operating at extreme range: their fuel tanks were unprotected and the 
air corridor was thick with Russian fighters and flak. The remnants of the 
fighter squadron based at Pitomnik had escaped just in time, but they could no 
longer reach Stalingrad without drop tanks and these were not available. It 
would be inhuman to speculate further on the reasons why so many Ju 52 crews 
— many of them drafted overnight from the accustomed luxury of ministers’ 



personal crews — found it difficult to get their aircraft into the air. Milch rec- 
ognized that the Luftwaffe was not above blame. 

The Sixth Army inside Stalingrad had made virtually no provision for 
unloading the aircraft. It had thoughtlessly set up headquarters near a second 
airfield at Gumrak, and it had discouraged earlier attempts to ready the field 
for use in the airlift, not wanting to attract Russian bombing raids. Now the loss 
of Pitomnik left them no choice, but the held had not been equipped for night 
landings and it had been prepared so haphazardly even for daylight landings 
that most of the aircrews were refusing to land and were just throwing the car- 
goes out. Without petrol the army could not gather up the heavy containers, so 
they lay embedded in the snowdrifts, and the troops in Stalingrad continued in 
their deprivations. The loss of air superiority had turned a crucial situation into 
a desperate one. 

During the evening increasingly hysterical appeals for help poured in on 
Milch from the Sixth Army: ‘The fate of the army depends on tonight’s airlift 
and on those of the 17th and night of i7/i8th alone.’ 15 ‘By 2300 hours only six- 
teen supply containers seen dropped. On what are troops supposed to live and 
fight tomorrow?’ ‘Fighting more and more pointless, as supply gap can no 
longer be bridged.’ ‘Numerous German soldiers lying starved to death in 
streets.’ ‘Please act against vile allegations of aircrews. Gumrak landing ground is 
fully serviceable.’ To rebuild the crews’ morale first of all, Milch proposed to 
tour every squadron himself next morning; then he would fly in to Stalingrad 
to see for himself. 

In a fierce blizzard and thirty degrees of frost, Milch next morning drove off 
toward the airfield. As they bumped over a railway crossing, Milch — sitting in 
front next to the driver — saw a shadow move outside his window, opaque with 
frost. He sensed danger and shouted to the driver. The driver braked, the front 
wheels jammed inside the railway track and a heavy Russian-built locomotive 
crashed into the car at forty miles per hour, hurling it across the embankment 
into a railway hut, which collapsed in ruins. Two soldiers in the hut were killed 
outright. 16 

Milch was crushed — unconscious — in the tangled wreckage. He was 



driven in an ambulance to a field hospital and von Richthofen was informed. 
He was found to have a severe head injury from which he had lost a lot of 
blood, a concussion and several broken ribs. The flight to the squadrons and 
Stalingrad was off, but nobody could restrain him from resuming the Fiihrer’s 
special mission. Within three hours he was carried back into the Luftflotte s 
command train. ‘Heedless of the shock and of the high temperature he is run- 
ning, he has returned to Fourth Air Force headquarters and is in command as 
before,’ recorded von Richthofen in his diary. 17 

Milch, his back and ribs encased in plaster, was propped up before a tele- 
phone. For the next two weeks his tongue would be his only weapon. The tele- 
phone line to Berlin was as clear as a local call. Soon he was discussing with 
Colonel Vorwald, his representative in Berlin, immediate steps such as the pro- 
vision of two long-range fighter squadrons and the gearing of industry to mass 
production of ready-filled air-drop containers. 

From General Fiebig, Milch recognized that there was clearly something 
wrong at the Stalingrad end of the operation. Fiebig said that several Heinkel 
ms had actually landed at Gumrak airfield during the day; they had found no 
ground organization, and nobody in the Sixth Army took any interest in their 
cargoes at all. ‘They handed over the foodstuffs they were carrying to troops 
passing by, and flew some injured back. The troops made a disorderly impres- 
sion — our aircrews had to defend themselves with their small-arms against sol- 
diers crowding in on them,’ said Fiebig. They had reported seeing no Russian 
tanks outside the fortress, nor any major fighting. Milch ordered reliable air 
force officers to fly to Gumrak next morning to inspect the organization in 
person and reconnoitre possible air-drop zones and a glider landing site nearer 
to the city itself, since fifty giant gliders were now available. 18 

Colonel-General Paulus continued to broadcast appeals for help. On the 
evening of r 7 January he wirelessed Hitler, ‘ Mein Ftihrer! Your orders for the 
supply of the army are not being obeyed. Gumrak airfield has been serviceable 
since early 16 January. Numerous obstacles being raised by air force outside 
fortress. Airfield declared perfectly safe for night landings. Ground organiza- 
tion standing by. Immediate intervention urged, extreme danger.’ This was 
followed by telephone calls to Milch from Hitler’s headquarters, asking why he 



planned no missions that night. Milch again insisted that Gumrak had no 
night-landing organization. The upshot of these conflicting reports was that 
Hitler ordered a senior officer of the Sixth Army to be flown out to report to 
him next morning. 19 

Milch suspected that in fact the transport aircraft crews’ morale had su- 
ffered, and that Paulus was not unjustified in his complaints. Later that evening 
Paulus again insisted that Gumrak was operational, but during the night no 
fewer than twenty-seven Heinkels flew at minimum altitude up and down the 
airfield, without sighting any flarepath; so again they could only drop out their 
loads in mid-air. Daylight missions were highly dangerous because of the Rus- 
sian fighter patrols, but on Milch’s insistence three more Heinkels took off at 
dawn, each carrying an officer with orders to contact Paulus in the fortress. 
With them they took a set of flarepath equipment so that Gumrak could oper- 
ate by night. 

On Milch’s instructions, too, Colonel Petersen had toured the first air- 
fields and his initial report on the Ju 52 squadrons at Zverevo was horrifying: 
there was a fifty-mile-per-hour gale blowing, and the aircraft were enveloped in 
huge snowdrifts, their engines frozen solid. There was no shelter, not even a 
trench, for the hundreds of airmen — just a vast, inhospitable, blizzard-swept 
field. The Air Transport Commander had been unable to make any provision 
for the men in the six weeks they had been there. After only a few minutes’ 
work, the fitters’ hands froze to their tools. Of the 106 Ju 52s standing round 
the field, forty-two were slightly damaged and awaiting repair; of the rest, only 
eight had taken off that morning, of which five had turned back short of 
Stalingrad. The figures spoke for themselves. 

Milch summoned the Air Transport Commander to his command train 
and asked if he had any requirements. The commander said he had none — it 
was useless to import more technical staff as there was not enough accommoda- 
tion or equipment as things were. The field marshal was irritated by this atti- 
tude. ‘These men had no chance whatsoever of warming themselves up; the 
only thing accomplished for them was parking a stone-cold omnibus there. Just 
imagine what it means,’ Milch described to his ministry staff a few days later, 
‘working in twenty-five degrees of frost with a fifty-mile-per-hour blizzard 



howling round your ears day and night without respite, and not being able to 
get away from it all at six o’clock each evening like in the ministry!’ 20 He was 
unconvinced by the commander’s excuses. When the latter explained he had 
written off for everything but nothing had arrived Milch challenged: ‘Do you 
think that lets you off?’ He asked why they had not built the simplest kind of 
huts, taking the materials from local villages. The commander replied they 
could not fetch materials without transport. Milch asked about the army trucks 
standing near the held. The commander protested, ‘We cannot touch those. 
That would be larceny!’ ‘The only larceny done around here,’ thundered 
Milch, ‘is that somebody has made off with your brains.’ 21 He ordered sixteen 
prefabricated huts to be rushed immediately to Zverevo airfield.* 

‘The Junkers squadrons had not the foggiest idea how to improvise,’ he 
related not long after. ‘I had to club some sense into them. At first they had 
nothing. But all at once they had a wooden hut with a small stove in it so they 
could keep warm. Then gradually they began to look at the correct cold- start 
procedure for the engines. I threatened anybody who neglected it with execu- 
tion.’ 22 

Over a hundred Ju 52 transport aircraft on hand, and only three flying! From 
that moment Milch recognized that the air force had let down the Sixth Army. 
The Fourth Air Force had totally failed to accommodate the armada of trans- 
port aircraft, and to take the necessary scale of organization into account. On 
Milch’s recommendation, von Richthofen dismissed his chief of staff Colonel 
von Rohden on the spot. Otherwise, he kept his recognition of the culprits to 
himself. 23 

This was the familiar Erhard Milch, tackling a seemingly hopeless situa- 
tion, surrounded by frightened and defeated men. Sitting painfully behind his 
desk in the command train, he summoned the squadron commanders one by 
one for the rough edge of his tongue. ‘In any other circumstances,’ he later 

* The commander and the Stalingrad air veterans’ association have denied any dispute with 
Milch. But Luftwaffe records — particularly the war diary of Milch’s staff, Milch’s contempo- 
rary notes and the verbatim Air Armament conference reports — create a very different picture. 



said, ‘I would have stayed in hospital. But there is a time in a man’s life when he 
must put his own person second.’ 24 The flak general, Pickert, who had flown 
out to Stalingrad a week before, reported that at that time Paulus had expected 
to hold out only six more days. 25 Milch sent him to Hitler. ‘I share your fears,’ 
he told von Manstein privately shortly after. ‘But we must assume that Stalin- 
grad can be held, and do all we can to that end. Clearly there can be no question 
of our acting as though Stalingrad were already lost.’ 26 

During the coming night, 18-19 January, six Heinkels and one FW 200 
actually landed at Gumrak and disgorged their supplies; another forty- one 
Heinkels, one FW 200 and three Ju 52s made air-drops over the airfield. The 
containers fell into deep snowdrifts and few could be recovered. A Heinkel 
brought out a score of injured men, and early next morning the Panzer gen- 
eral, Hube, was flown out of the fortress on Hitler’s orders and added to 
Milch’s staff. 27 Hube had lost one hand in the First World War and was an ob- 
vious leader of men. He complained that many of the earlier transports that 
had landed at Pitomnik had been only half full, and even now others were car- 
rying quite useless stores. As for Gumrak, Hube questioned why so many air- 
craft had failed to risk the landing; he had himself seen the signal cartridges 
being fired as the transports circled overhead. Milch did not admit to Hube the 
conclusions he had drawn about the crews’ morale. 28 

Alerted by Hube’s complaint, Milch ordered some of the containers to be 
opened on the airfields. Many of the sacks were found to contain only fish- 
meal. Milch sent the sacks back and asked the army to have the victualling offi- 
cer hanged. ‘If we had not had the contents of these sacks sampled on the air- 
fields, our aircraft would actually have flown fish-meal into Stalingrad!’ 29 

With the arrival of Milch’s special mission a new spirit prevailed. The rate 
of supply increased, new aircraft joined the squadrons, and a new heroism was 
instilled into the exhausted crews. Two squadrons of fighter aircraft were on 
their way from Germany. Gumrak airfield now had an improvised flarepath of 
ten tank-lamps and a powerful radio beacon was in operation. Milch’s experts 
toured the loading airfields, supervised cold-start procedures, and established 
workshop and supply facilities. In the twenty-four hours before dawn on 20 



January, the Sixth Army saw thirty He rirs actually land at Gumrak with petrol, 
ammunition, foodstuffs and medical supplies; and 130 injured men were flown 
out. Only one Ju 52 landed, a failure which angered Milch. ‘I will have any 
commander acting against my orders shot,’ he warned the Air Transport 
Commander. 30 

Colonel Petersen sent to Rechlin for cold-start squads to work on the 
sixty-five Junkers transporters abandoned to the Russian winter at Zverevo. 
They found that no attempt whatever had been made by the Junkers crews to 
operate the trustworthy cold-start procedure. ‘The Ju 52 squadrons did not 
even know of it,’ Milch later related, ‘because they had arrived from Africa.’ 31 
Special cold-start fuel was also available not far away, but the squadrons had no 
transport and dared not appropriate the army’s unused vehicles. Meantime, 
Milch investigated what had happened to the accommodation and equipment 
the Air Transport Commander had requested through service channels. ‘They 
are probably still waiting for it,’ he mocked three weeks later. ‘I found out that 
the trains did actually set out, in part, but they were shunted off somewhere else 
because more important stuff had to be transported. So they lay around . . . and 
who knows where they are today?’ 32 

During the afternoon a Heinkel squadron commander reported to Milch: he 
had flown the round trip to Gumrak, but had had to wait five hours there be- 
fore his aircraft was unloaded. His report left no doubt about the mood within 
the fortress. Paulus had reproached him, ‘Today is the fourth day my men 
have had nothing to eat. Our heavy guns have had to be abandoned because we 
have no petrol. Our last horses have been eaten. Can you imagine soldiers fal- 
ling upon the carcass of a horse, smashing its head open and eating its brains 
raw? . . . What should I, the Commander-in-Chief of an army, say to a man 
who begs of me, “Herr Colonel-General! A crust of bread?”’ Paulus’s chief of 
staff had butted in, ‘And now you dare to try to whitewash the Luftwaffe, which 
has committed the worst treachery in the history of the German people! Some- 
body must have suggested the airlift to the Fuhrer! That a whole army, this 
magnificent Sixth Army, has to go to the dogs like this!’ Paulus commented, 
‘We speak to you as though from another world already, for we are dead men. 



Nothing remains but what history may write of us.’ Retaining an icy composure 
to the end, Paulus instructed the Luftwaffe major to tell Milch that only one 
thing was of use — that the transport aircraft must be ordered to land at Gum- 
rak whether they liked it or not. 33 

During the night hours 113 transport planes took off and sixty-seven 
completed supply runs, of which twenty-one Heinkels and four Ju 52s landed 
at Gumrak. The rest of the supplies were pushed out into the dark sky, in the 
hope that some would be found. 

At Stalingrad teams of starving troops laboured to prepare a second landing- 
ground, eight hundred yards long and sixty yards wide. It was subjected to 
continuous Russian air attack. News reached Milch that a squadron of the latest 
Me 109G fighters was destined for Stalingrad, plus eighty mechanics for the Ju 
52 ground crews. 34 Trainloads of transport gliders were on their way — Go 242s, 
Me 321s and even seventy-two DFS 230s. The extra aircraft pre-heating equip- 
ment had been despatched, and German industry had begun the production of 
air-drop containers. When von Manstein telephoned to ask when the fighters 
and bombers would arrive, Milch could reply, ‘Very soon! The fighters have 
already reached Cracow.’ 35 

He detailed a ground-control officer to fly with three others into Gumrak 
next day. Fiebig noted pessimistically, ‘They want to be fetched out if the worst 
comes to the worst. I do not think it can be done. They are done for.’ 36 At noon 
a Sixth Army staff officer reported to Milch that there were still about 160,000 
German troops in the city, slowly freezing or starving to death. Nothing less 
than two hundred tons a day could keep this army alive. ‘How long the fortress 
can hold out is not for me to say; things might be over very rapidly.’ 37 Milch 
sent him to report in person to Hitler. 

Early next day the ground-control officer returned prematurely. Paulus 
had ordered him out, saying he had been promised a Luftwaffe general. ‘What- 
ever the assistance you are offering, it comes too late. We are all lost!’ When the 
major had referred to other, more optimistic developments, Paulus had cut 
him short: ‘Dead men are not interested in war history.’ General Janecke, com- 
mander of the Fourth Panzer Corps, who had been sent for by Hitler, accom- 



panied him. While the Luftwaffe major reported that aircraft could land safely 
at the new Stalingrad landing-ground — but not take off — Janecke said he gave 
the fortress three more days. 

Time was now running out fast. Gumrak airfield was overrun by Russian 
troops. Eighty-one aircraft flew missions to the new landing ground and 
twenty-six attempted landings, but most were wrecked as they ran into bomb- 
craters concealed by the snowdrifts. The rest discharged their cargoes in mid- 
air. The Russians had launched a heavy assault on the western outskirts of 
Stalingrad and the new airstrip was overrun as well: ten more Heinkels man- 
aged to land and unload part of their fuel before the enemy arrived. From now 
on the airlift could be maintained by air-drops alone; no more injured could be 
evacuated. Some twenty-nine thousand injured troops had been successfully 
flown out. In grim anticipation of this final act, every soldier had been given the 
chance to write one last letter home. When the last Heinkel took off on 23 Janu- 
ary it carried nineteen injured soldiers, and seven bags of mail. 38 

Altogether 116 aircraft completed missions on that day — proof of the 
work put in by Petersen and the ministry engineers — but all of them had to 
release their cargoes in mid-air. At ten o’clock that evening Milch learned that 
the fortress had been cut in two, with a northern pocket about ten miles wide 
and eight deep, and a southern one in the city’s suburbs. 39 It would take two 
more days for the first fighter aircraft to arrive from Germany. 40 Goring con- 
tinued to send lengthy telegrams to Milch, and Hitler himself telephoned early 
on the twenty-fourth to inquire about the situation, clutching at any straws of 
hope Milch’s staff could offer. ‘He wanted a miracle to happen, and believed 
there would be one,’ Milch later wrote. ‘I myself saw no such chance.’ 41 As dawn 
broke on the twenty- fourth, the weather worsened. Wireless contact was lost for 
several hours. A few planes flew low over the fog-shrouded ruins and dropped 
sacks of foodstuffs on brightly coloured parachutes, but few were found. Later 
that day Paulus’s headquarters signalled, ‘Ghastly conditions prevailing in the 
city. At least twenty thousand untended injured and stragglers are sheltering in 
the ruins of houses and cellars. Scenes of catastrophe on very largest scale . . . 
Front line being held by small squads commanded by generals and high- morale 
officers, who are organizing the last battle-worthy men together under fire.’ 42 



That afternoon Milch telephoned Speer from Mariupol. The Munitions Min- 
ister reported that the Fiihrer recognized that the airlift had been speeded up, 
and was ruefully reproaching himself again for not having sent for Milch ear- 
lier. 43 The field marshal admitted that he had no news of Speer’s brother in the 
fortress; Speer was not surprised. The family had now received a long- delayed 
postcard from Ernst, saying he had decided to die in the front line rather than 
in hospital. They never saw him again. 

Although suffering agonies from blood poisoning and the inflamed inju- 
ries resulting from his crash a week before, Field Marshal Milch did what he 
could over the next few days to alleviate the long drawn-out death throes of the 
Sixth Army. Forty-five tons of supplies were parachuted into the two shrinking 
pockets during the night, but of the sixty-two Ju 52s operational at Zverevo 
again only eleven had actually flown. The Air Transport Commander blamed 
the cold engines. Milch admonished him, ‘Any pilot aborting without good 
reason will be stood before a court martial.’* 44 On the following night, 26-27 
January, no fewer than 124 transport aircraft completed missions over Stalin- 
grad: fifty He 111s flew 104 sorties between them.f A hundred tons of food — 
bread, ham and chocolate — and ammunition were released over the dropping 
zones, now marked by criss-crossed lorry headlamps. The Me 109G squadron 
had now reached Lemberg, six hundred miles away, and the Me 110 long-range 
fighters were even nearer. 

Milch sent urgent word to Berlin that he wanted engineers and oil-cooler 
experts to work on the He 177s; he wanted specialists for ground equipment, 
engineers familiar with parachute and air-drop techniques, experts for aircraft 
repairs, armament and equipment. 46 By now one trainload of filled air-drop 

* Milch’s Stalingrad diary quotes one Rechlin expert’s statement in his command train on 27 
January: ‘This morning most of KG 55’s aircraft started without the use of the heating truck and 
despite a temperature of minus 15 degrees, simply by applying the correct cold-start procedure .’ 45 
t Major Beumelburg wrote in his June 1943 study: ‘On the night of 26-27 January two crews 
flew two sorties each from Zverevo airfield, three crews flew two sorties each from Stalino, six 
crews from Novocherkassk flew three sorties each and seventeen crews flew two, and from Con- 
stantinovka four crews flew two sorties each.’ The courage needed to fly three sorties in one 
night to Stalingrad can readily be appreciated. 



containers and another of foodstuffs was arriving every day at the loading air- 
fields. Every three days a trainload of transport gliders arrived as well. At Zver- 
evo there were already r,8oo tons of foodstuffs and ammunition awaiting lifting 
into Stalingrad; but the airlift itself was still the impassable bottleneck. 

On the following night eighty-seven transports flew missions to the 
dropping zone, now in Red Square itself, but little of the supplies reached the 
German troops. The Luftwaffe signals officer within the fortress now had all the 
radio beacons in operation; he must have known the fate awaiting all of them. 
Milch emulated his courage and asked Hitler’s permission for General Hube 
and himself to fly one Heinkel mission to Stalingrad in person. Permission was 
refused. 47 

Early next morning, 28 January, Milch was unexpectedly visited by Hitler’s 
chief adjutant, General Schmundt. 48 The field marshal frankly told Schmundt, 
‘I believe it desirable for the Fuhrer to detach himself more from the individual 
problems of army command and appoint a leading personality theatre com- 
mander for the eastern front, like those already existing in the west and south, 
to command all three services.’ He warned that Germany’s increased produc- 
tion effort could not match those of the enemy until r944, so the coming year 
must be one of defensive strategy. 49 The armies on the eastern front should dig 
into strongly fortified positions. Schmundt invited Milch to state this case to 
the Fuhrer, and Milch agreed provided that he could talk to Hitler alone. 

The defence of the two remaining strongholds was now seriously ham- 
pered by the presence of some thirty thousand injured troops lying untended 
among the ruins. Paulus’s foodstocks were so low that he ordered no food to be 
given to the injured or sick, so that those who were still fit enough to fight 
could do so. The heavy parachute containers were falling too far from Red 
Square, and settling down into the tall shells of ruined buildings where the 
troops could not retrieve them. Still the airlift continued. By dawn on 29 Janu- 
ary another ro9 aircraft had carried out supply drops, each releasing about one 
ton of food and ammunition. The whole airlift had now cost the Luftwaffe 330 
aircraft and 79r airmen dead or missing; the latter losses were nothing com- 
pared with the Sixth Army’s losses, of course. 



The first twelve fighter aircraft had now arrived from the Reich. Milch 
ordered that on the morrow, the tenth anniversary of the Nazi seizure of 
power, there must be German fighter aircraft over Stalingrad. 50 ‘The reputa- 
tion of the Luftwaffe, and in particular of the fighter arm, in the eyes of the 
German army is at stake.’ 51 Von Manstein’s army group alone failed to rise to 
the occasion. It announced the next day’s army password as one word, ‘Pan- 
ama!’ To men of Milch’s generation this was an elegant insult, derived from the 
fraud surrounding the building of the first Panama Canal. Milch ordered the 
password to be changed to ‘Long live the Fuhrer!’ 52 

Now Paulus changed his tone as well. He wirelessed Hitler: ‘On the anni- 
versary of your assumption of power, the Sixth Army sends greetings to the 
Fuhrer. Still flutters the swastika over Stalingrad. May our struggle stand as an 
example to generations as yet unborn, never to surrender, however desperate 
the odds. Then Germany will be victorious.’ 53 

Under Milch’s control the airlift was now reaching its second climax. Over- 
night, 124 aircraft flew over the dropping zones, and this time almost all the 
supplies were retrieved. As dawn of the thirtieth broke Milch’s fighters stood 
over Stalingrad. But already the Luftwaffe units there were wirelessing him 
their last farewells from within the fortress. A new discipline replaced the disor- 
der and recrimination which had characterized the weeks before. Colonel 
Rosenfeld, commanding 10th Flak Regiment, signalled: ‘In the basement ruins 
of Red Square, Stalingrad, surrounded by the thunder of enemy gunfire, we 
have read our Fuhrer’s proclamation. It has given us courage and resolution for 
these last hours of the battle for the ruins of the Red citadel on the Volga. 
Above us flies the swastika banner. The orders of our Supreme Command are 
being obeyed to the end. We turn our thoughts loyally to the Fatherland. Long 
live the Fuhrer!’ 54 

The southern pocket was almost finished. Returning aircrews told Milch 
that fires were raging round Red Square, and that the secret police building 
housing Paulus’s headquarters was on fire. 55 That evening, sitting in von Rich- 
thofen’s train, Milch listened to the broadcast of Goring’s commemoration 
speech from the Air Ministry. ‘Oh yes,’ proclaimed Goring, ‘there were those 



weaklings who came and warned that the Soviet Union had three, four or five 
times as many tanks, and ten times as many planes as we. Isn’t that always the 
way cowards act !’ 56 Milch knew at whom Goring’s jibe was aimed. 

By next morning another 120 supply missions had been flown . 57 At 10 
a . m . it was clear that the southern pocket had been destroyed. The Luftwaffe 
signals troops there had wirelessed that Russian troops were smashing the door 
down, so they ‘signed off — a discipline which brought tears to the eyes of the 
field marshal who had created the Luftwaffe . 58 Hitler signalled the Ninth Army 
Corps, holding the tractor factory, ‘I expect the northern pocket of Stalingrad 
to be held to the last man. Every day, every hour which is thereby gained is of 
decisive value for the rest of the front .’ 59 The Corps predicted they would hold 
out for two more days. 

His body aching and swollen, Milch was lifted into his Dornier to tour the 
loading airfields and harangue the crews himself . 60 The transport squadrons 
dropped ninety-eight tons into the northern pocket during the night, a mo- 
mentous effort considering the distances now involved. But on the morning of 
2 February the last German resistance in Stalingrad was overcome: ‘Ninth Army 
Corps’s six divisions have done their duty in heaviest fighting to the last man. 
Long live the Ffihrer! Long live Germany !’ 61 Milch telephoned this text to the 
Fuhrer’s headquarters at 11 a . m . It might have been a Soviet trick, so he still 
ordered aircraft out over the city in case there were signs of German fighting 
men; but they returned with their loads still on board. Columns of Russian 
troops had been seen marching into the lifeless factory. Signal cartridges had 
been fired aimlessly into the sky. Milch ended the airlift forthwith, and tele- 
phoned this decision to Hitler an hour before midnight struck. 

We can imagine with what memories he took leave of von Richthofen next day. 
The nightmare impressions of apathy and lack of leadership, the bitter realiza- 
tion that so much more could have been achieved, the distracted midnight 
conversations with Hitler and the Reichsmarschall — three hundred thousand 
faces crowding in on him as his Dornier took off from Mariupol airfield, 
churning up a whirlwind of snowflakes in its wake, bearing General Hube and 
himself to Hitler’s headquarters. 



To the field marshal’s surprise the Fuhrer sent privately for Hube first, 
and suspiciously inquired whether Milch had done everything in his power; to 
which Hube replied, ‘All that and more!’ Hube observed that if the Fuhrer had 
sent Milch fourteen days before, Stalingrad would not have fallen. ‘That,’ re- 
gretted Hitler, ‘is a judgement on me.’ 62 

After Hube Hitler received Milch until r.30 a.m., but it was painful to see 
Hitler’s nerves at such low ebb. Milch made no bones about his views: had he 
been Paulus, he said, he would have disobeyed orders and commanded his 
army to break out of Stalingrad. 63 Hitler coldly replied that he would then have 
been obliged to lay Milch’s head at his feet. The field marshal, his neck bulging 
ominously red and his injured back hurting like the devil, burst out, ‘ Mein 
Fuhrer, it would have been worth it! One field marshal sacrificed, to save three 
hundred thousand men!’ Hitler was not pleased by this remark, and Milch re- 
alized he could talk no more with him that night. 





February-March 1943 

for twenty days Milch was unable to report to Reichsmarschall Goring. 
Goring’s disgrace was complete, but one factor saved him after Stalingrad in 
Hitler’s eyes: ‘He is my own designated successor,’ the Fiihrer said, ‘and that is 
why I cannot hold him publicly responsible for Stalingrad.’ 1 The defeat had not 
been a glorious episode for the Luftwaffe. Professor Richard Suchenwirth, the 
first post-war biographer of Germany’s air commanders, has observed: ‘Of all 
the leading personalities in the air force in the whole unhappy period from 
November until February, we can see only the one man, von Richthofen, as a 
man of vision and resolution; and, in the final phase, exerting himself to the 
very utmost, the man on the spot whom the Luftwaffe generals so willingly 
dismissed as “a civilian” — the state secretary, Field Marshal Milch.’ 2 

In seventy-two days and nights the Luftwaffe had successfully flown in 
8,350 tons of supplies to the fortress, an average of 116 tons a day; the cost had 
been 488 aircraft destroyed, missing or written off, and about one thousand 
airmen. It had cost the equivalent of five wings ( Geschwader ) or an entire air 
corps. 3 The training schools had been stripped of aircraft and instructors, and 
Lufthansa had also lost some of its finest pilots. 4 But what were these losses 
compared to those of the Sixth Army? Only 108,000 troops had survived to 
enter Soviet captivity; of these only six thousand survived to return to Ger- 
many. 5 But we now know that the Stalingrad fighting tied down no fewer than 



seven Russian armies for the two months that it endured. 

A long time afterward Milch learned part of the background of Goring’s 
undertaking to Hitler. Colonel Eschenauer, the Air Staff s supply officer, told 
him he had pointed out that three hundred tons a day was impossible; he had 
found some difficulty at first in making Jeschonnek realize that the so-called 
‘250-kilo’ supply bombs would not hold anything like 250 kilograms of food, 
but far less — it just had the same shape as a 250-kilo bomb. 6 To Jeschonnek’s 
credit, he immediately brought this to Goring’s attention and asked him to 
warn Hitler that their calculations had been based on a wrong assumption. The 
Reichsmarschall forbade him to tell Hitler, and the outcome was inevitable. 7 

While Milch had been away much had happened that was to affect the air war. 
In broad daylight and unescorted, American bombers had carried out their first 
attack on Germany on 27 January, and three days later RAF Mosquitoes 
bombed Berlin in daylight too. That same night the British raided Hamburg in 
force, using the 9-centimetre H2S radar system for the first time — a system 
which more than any other contributed to the German cities’ ruin. 8 It was all 
happening just as he had prophesied. 

Somehow the German army’s losses in the east had to be replaced, for 
Hitler was already planning a spring counter-offensive. Speer announced to 
Central Planning that Hitler had commanded a major tank production effort, 
rising to fifteen hundred tanks a month by the autumn. 9 Speer undertook that 
neither the Luftwaffe nor the submarine construction programmes would be 
inconvenienced in any way; but when Milch, on his return, appealed to him to 
accord aircraft production the same industrial priority this was delayed for 
three months, by which time the supply firms were so crowded with Panzer 
and U-boat contracts that the belated Luftwaffe contracts had little chance. 10 

For the first time Milch was meeting an influence as radical as himself. 
Speer he could handle as a friend, but the minister’s chief assistant, Karl-Otto 
Saur, was beyond control. Saur, a stocky, bustling engineer, was an acknowl- 
edged expert on armament and industrial problems. Aided by police, he raided 
the Luftwaffe’s most important factories and picked the best engineers for 
himself. Throughout February 1943 the complaints rained in on Milch, as over- 



night the irreplaceable welders and engineers vanished from the production 
lines at Junkers and Daimler-Benz. 11 When Milch drew attention to this, 
Goring agreed that Hitler ought to make up his mind what he wanted: ‘Even 
Speer is powerless when the Fiihrer hammers him for tanks. That’s why the 
Fiihrer must decide in his own mind whether he will grant aircraft the same 
priority as tanks or not.’ 12 

But the Fiihrer’s aircraft requirements varied constantly as the tide of 
battle changed. In the aftermath of Stalingrad Hitler had impulsively de- 
manded of Milch, ‘I want transporters, transporters and more transporters!’ 13 
He suggested quite a primitive aircraft, capable of landing with up to four tons 
of cargo on rough, unprepared ground. But soon the evacuation of the Cau- 
casus was in full swing, headed for the Crimea, and now he asked for Ju 52 sea- 
planes too. 14 He also desperately wanted the He 177 bomber: the aircraft had 
flown nineteen supply missions to Stalingrad in all, and as usual had excelled as 
a fast, heavy aircraft; but five had been destroyed by engine fires in mid-air — a 
casualty rate of twenty-six percent. ‘The Fiihrer spoke to me about it,’ lamented 
Milch on his return from headquarters. ‘I stood in front of the Fiihrer like a 
very small boy who has not done his sums properly. I tried to go over the causes 
and explanations with him, but it is tough to explain the reasons to anybody 
who has not been immersed in it all, and it’s even tougher if you cannot simply 
tell him, “That’s the way I inherited it, it’s not my baby. It’s my predecessor 
that’s to blame.” That would be the coward’s way out.’ 15 

The spectacle of Stalingrad and the eastern front oppressed Milch, and he 
resolved to speak his mind to the Fiihrer on the next occasion. When Speer 
launched into a monologue on the scarcity of materials and fuel during a Cen- 
tral Planning session, Milch cut him short with a grim reminder: ‘The only raw 
material which cannot be restored in the foreseeable future is human blood.’ 16 
He viewed the war very differently now. He discussed with Speer and Goebbels 
a proposal for a War Cabinet to relieve Hitler of the burden of political leader- 
ship while he directed the fighting. 17 He found Goebbels’s attitude toward total 
war and the leadership closely allied to his own. On 16 February he told his de- 
partmental heads that Goebbels had recently pointed out to him that ‘it is the 
first duty of the leaders of a state to keep their heads, and to pronounce upon 



the over-all situation calmly and reasonably, and without carping and grousing. 
Our nation must be properly led by us, and it must feel that it is being led. No- 
body must get the impression that we do not accept the efforts this nation is 
offering to us.’ 18 This was the very eve of Total War. 

On the evening of the eighteenth Milch witnessed the new age ushered in 
by Goebbels at a major Sportpalast speech, broadcast throughout Europe. Af- 
terward Goebbels invited Milch and a handful of his like-minded colleagues to 
his apartment. He found Goring’s state secretary ‘a fanatical champion of total 
war’ and suspected he might well prove a valuable prop for the cause: ‘Thus we 
shall also succeed in bringing the Reichsmarschall round to our side.’ 19 But 
Goring’s general lethargy defeated the plan for a War Cabinet. Speer put the 
proposal to him in their name, and was himself optimistic; Milch recorded the 
results more negatively, and Goring does not appear to have broached the pos- 
sibility to Hitler at all. 

The Luftwaffe’s dilemma after Stalingrad was formidable. It was plagued with a 
strange assortment of prewar aircraft designs long since overtaken by the 
changing patterns of air strategy. Really effective weapons like the 30-millimetre 
cannon would still not enter production until mid-1943, and then only in min- 
ute series 20 ; Milch’s predecessor had fought tooth and nail against such devas- 
tating weapons as the one-kilo anti-personnel bomb the Fiihrer had himself 
suggested 21 ; and several of the air force’s leading generals, like the incompetent 
and corrupt General Loerzer, had reached their present positions only through 
influence in high places. 22 

The increasing shortage of trained aircrew, particularly for the bomber 
arm, was aggravated by the lack of aircraft and aviation fuel for the training 
schools, and by the huge numbers of front-line aircraft now being produced by 
the industry. 23 Once, Jeschonnek had assured Goring that if the front-line 
squadrons were to be given the petrol currently being allocated to the training 
squadrons, the war would be over before the latter crews were needed. Milch 
alone took the long-term view, and pressed for extra capacity for fuel produc- 
tion: without extra fuel they could not train aircrew to the proper standard, 
could not run in new aero-engines, could not transport stores or fight in the 



air. 24 If the Allies ever decided to concentrate their attack on Germany’s syn- 
thetic oil refineries, there would be Armageddon: ‘The synthetic oil plants are 
the worst possible place they could hit us,’ he warned Central Planning during 
the spring of 1943. ‘With them stands or falls our very ability to fight this war. 
After all, if the synthetic fuel plants are effectively attacked, not only our air- 
craft but the tanks and submarines will also come to a standstill.’ 25 

Goring refused to be alarmed: ‘I prefer,’ he explained to Milch, ‘to have a 
heap of aircraft lying idle, unable to fly because of a temporary fuel shortage, 
than to have no aircraft at all.’ By 1945 Goring’s preference had been met — 
with a vengeance. 26 

On 22 February 1943 Milch saw Goring and the Air Staff for the first time since 
Stalingrad, to put to them the planning for the coming year. 27 Goring wearily 
complained that all the old familiar aircraft types were reappearing: ‘The whole 
thing suffers from the complete absence of planning that reigned previously, 
from the tyranny of the old Office of Air Armament, and their reluctance to 
report defects in time to the Commander-in-Chief.’ 28 

When the conversation turned to the lack of heavy bombers, Milch re- 
called to him with some bitterness the events of 1937: ‘In 1933 or 1934 a four- 
engined aircraft was built by both Junkers and Dornier. These planes were re- 
jected later, and scrapped. At that time people believed the medium bomber 
was the true aircraft, and killed off the four-engined one. At the same time,’ he 
emphasized, ‘the British and Americans went over to four-engined designs.’ 29 

At this conference Milch noticed that Goring’s power of speech fre- 
quently failed him; his eyes seemed glazed and he confused the aircraft types. 
‘What use are the finest remote-controlled bombs and all those contraptions if 
we can’t get right out and attack the ships far beyond the range of fighter air- 
craft?’ Goring asked him. ‘And the Russian spaces present certain clear tasks to 
us as well. I must insist that we tackle the four-engined problem by the quickest 
possible means — by a crash-programme or whatever you call it. Whether we 
build on the Focke-Wulf, or take the He 177 as the appropriate aircraft, or an 
enlarged Ju 288 ... I don’t know how.’ Then in confusion he asked, ‘How many 
engines does this Junkers 290 have?’ 30 



On 1 March over 250 four-engined RAF bombers attacked Berlin, releas- 
ing six hundred tons of bombs. The extensive damage included bve hundred 
big fires raging out of control, twenty thousand homes damaged, thirty-five 
thousand people homeless, and seven hundred civilians killed. As Dr Goebbels 
hurried back to tour his stricken gau, Goring left by special train in the oppo- 
site direction for a brief vacation in Rome. From his hunting lodge, Milch saw 
the fires against the skyline and hastened to the ministry: a heavy bomb had hit 
one wing, his own office had been demolished and fire brigades were in action 

But the news Milch gave his colleagues next morning was that the fight 
was still on. For the first time they had produced over two thousand aircraft a 
month in February, including 725 single- and 133 twin-engined fighters, and 
over 650 bombers. 31 ‘That is just the beginning, the increase must continue,’ he 
said. ‘There can be no going back. By the end of this year we must reach three 
thousand aircraft and eight thousand engines a month.’ Next day an RAF 
photographic reconnaissance Mosquito circled high over Berlin in broad day- 
light. Neither the German fighters nor the flak could reach it. 32 

To assuage German public opinion, Hitler ordered reprisal attacks on 
London, a target he had recently been sparing. 33 Of a hundred tons of bombs 
carried by his aircraft to London on 3 March, however, only twelve fell within 
the capital’s boundaries. 34 Goring was still in Rome. At a midday conference the 
Ffihrer derided the Third Air Force’s inability to find London, a target thirty 
miles across and only ninety miles from the French coast. On the same night the 
first really heavy RAF attack had fallen on Hamburg. ‘When is the Reichsmar- 
schall going to come?’ Hitler repeatedly asked. ‘This way we’ll never make the 
British give in!’ 35 He summoned Milch to his headquarters and repeated to him 
his demand for the urgent manufacture of a high-speed, high-altitude 
bomber. 36 

That evening, 5 March 1943, Milch dined alone with Hitler until the early hours 
of the morning. 37 His basic arguments were two — that for 1943 Germany must 
restrict herself to the defensive, conserving strength for a resumption of the 
offensive if need be in 1944 38 ; and that Germany’s leadership meantime must be 



overhauled. 39 Goring, whom he suspected of succumbing again to narcotic 
influences after a ten-year interruption, should resign the Luftwaffe command 
and be appointed Theatre Commander of the eastern front instead. ‘But once 
he is there you must draw a line on the map, which he may not cross to the west 
without your express permission. Otherwise he’ll be off shopping in Paris 
again.’ He suggested that Hitler also appoint a proper chief of staff for himself, 
like von Manstein. 40 

For the planned spring offensive in the east, Milch continued, the Ger- 
man forces were at present too weak and their transport was inadequate over 
such great distances. Inspired by his recent observations (‘there were sixty-five 
thousand army troops at Tagarog, while one lieutenant and six men had to 
hold each kilometre of the front!’ 41 ), he challenged the Fuhrer to investigate 
how many of the army’s ten million troops were actually fighting in the east. He 
refused to believe that more than a few hundred thousand were actually 
fighting; the other millions were tucked away in the Wehrmacht’s vast bureauc- 
racy and rear areas. * 

For the Luftwaffe, Milch suggested that they aim for a production of five 
thousand fighters a month. He warned that the Allied bomber production 
figures were no mirage. ‘When these bombers come, Germany and her whole 
armament industry will be destroyed and it will all be over.’ Equally he warned 
against underestimating the Russians: the individual Soviet soldier was inferior 
to the German, but his leadership in this war could not be faulted. Hitler inter- 
rupted to say, ‘I will certainly treat Stalin well when he is my prisoner!’ 

Milch concluded with a strong hint that Hitler should make peace now. 

‘ Mein Fuhrer, Stalingrad has been the gravest crisis for the nation and armed 
forces so far. You must do something decisive to bring Germany out of this war. 
It is still not too late, and there are certainly many who think as I do. You must 
act now — act without ceremony, and above all act now.’ 

It was 3.15 a.m. when they separated. The field marshal had talked himself 

* A year later Milch triumphantly related in Central Planning: ‘In November [1943] the Fuhrer 
ordered a survey and found out that there are only 265,000 men permanently fighting on the 
eastern front.’ 42 



into a cold sweat. Hitler had listened to his arguments without anger, but Milch 
recognized that he had not convinced him . 43 He met Goring for the first time 
after this talk ten days later. After luncheon the Reichsmarschall took him for a 
drive in the grounds of Karinhall. Milch very properly reported in full his ad- 
vice to Hitler that Goring should relinquish the Luftwaffe’s command. The 
latter allowed this to pass without comment . 44 Milch suspected that his mind 
was far away, in consequence of more narcotics, but a year later Goring was to 
repeat to him word for word everything he had said. 




‘Things don’t look rosy for our big cities.’ 
Field Marshal Milch, March 1943 




March-May 1943 

on the night of Milch’s talk with Hitler the RAF destroyed the big Ruhr city 
of Essen and devastated its Krupp steelworks and armaments complex in the 
process. Captured British crews admitted that the aiming points in these raids 
were now invariably the residential areas. The object was to burn and kill, to 
bring political pressure to bear on Berlin. The destruction of military targets 
like dockyards and air bases was left almost exclusively to the still rare incursions 
of the American daylight bomber formations.* 

Almost every night during the coming months one German, French, 
Czech or other target was singled out for destruction in a methodical attack, 
heralded by skyborne showers of coloured pyrotechnic flares released by Path- 
finder aircraft; the latter were guided by H2S or Oboe radar systems. H2S por- 
trayed a city’s outline on the aircraft’s radar screen, while Oboe was a precise 
method employing radio beams and ground controllers in England, enabling 
single aircraft to release marker flares or bombs with an accuracy of a few hun- 
dred yards on targets as distant as the Ruhr. 

To combat the growing Allied bombing offensive, the Germans had Gen- 
eral Kammhuber’s fighter aircraft defence system, and flak. The defences were 

* As the official historians succinctly wrote, the object of the general-area attacks was ‘to render 
the German industrial population homeless, spiritless and, as far as possible, dead’. 



highly dependent on ground and airborne radar systems. Kammhuber had 
established a line of night-fighter ‘boxes’, each with a Freya early warning radar, 
a Wurzburg precision radar and a ground-controlled fighter-aircraft; but it 
was a costly and elaborate system and it was rigid and vulnerable to Allied in- 

There was another, indirect and hence less certain, means of defence — 
for the Luftwaffe to strike back at Britain’s civil population. But Goring was in 
Rome and his absence only angered Hitler more. 1 On 8 March 1943 nearly eight 
hundred tons of bombs were aimed by the RAF at Nuremberg, one of the holi- 
est of Nazi shrines. On the ninth the RAF attacked Munich in force, and on the 
eleventh they attacked Stuttgart. Hitler ordered Goring to return to Germany 
and commanded an ‘intensification of the air war against Britain’, for which he 
handed absolute responsibility to the twenty-nine-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel 
Dietrich Peltz as ‘Attack Commander, Britain’. 2 This further commitment, and 
its further failure, were to bring Goring still greater reproach from Hitler. 
Goring wailed, ‘Look around Stalingrad — that’s where my bombers are, strewn 
wrecked across the countryside.’ 3 

For a while Milch was also deflected from his belief in the need to con- 
centrate on the Reich’s defence. Perhaps it was the head injury at Stalingrad 
that caused his now more frequent outbursts; his staff noticed that he was more 
irritable than before. 4 ‘We must attack Britain,’ he told them, ‘otherwise Britain 
will smash us to smithereens. Our entire armaments effort — air, army and navy 
— is dependent on whether we can clear our own skies by carrying out the ap- 
propriate attacks on the British home base — either on their airfields or on their 
industry or on their civilians and cities.’ ‘It’s not a matter of precise aim, but of 
terror raids, pure and simple! Look what they accomplish with their terror 
raids, even without aiming. They didn’t aim at this ministry or at anything else, 
they just plodded bravely overhead.’ 5 

Goring did not like being admonished by Hitler; nor did he like having 
been summoned back from Rome. In a towering rage he summoned his gener- 
als and industrialists for a five-hour tirade of insults and recriminations. 6 ‘I can 
only express to you my strongest disappointment about the complete failure in 
virtually every field of aviation technology today — and my disappointment, 



too, that I have been deceived in the past on a scale to which I have hitherto 
been accustomed only in variety acts by magicians and conjurers,’ Goring com- 
plained. ‘There are some things which were reported to me as absolutely ready 
before this war, which are not ready even today!’ Twice he emphasized that 
when he spoke of ‘the enemy’ now, he meant the western Allies, for he consid- 
ered the German forces still the equals of the Russians. 7 Germany’s present air- 
craft were useless except for the Russian front, he added: ‘In 1940 I could at 
least fly as far as Glasgow with most of my aircraft, but not now — not any 
longer.’ 8 

Much of Goring’s speech was devoted to the abortive aircraft projects 
inspired by Messerschmitt — like the Me 264 and Me 309 — and Heinkel. ‘I was 
promised a heavy bomber,’ Goring recalled with sarcasm, ‘the Heinkel 177. 
Then, when one calamity after another happened to it, they told me: “Well, if 
the plane did not have to dive, it would be the finest plane in the world, it 
could be sent to the squadrons at once — at once!” I immediately announced, “It 
does not have to dive!” How could anybody think of such a mode of attack? But 
where it has been tried out on [level] operations’ — meaning Stalingrad — ‘it 
has resulted in catastrophic losses, none of them caused by the enemy.’ Thus 
they still had no means of long-range reconnaissance for the submarine wolf- 
packs, and attacks on enemy shipping with special missiles like Fritz-X and Hs 
293 were impossible. 9 Later he challenged the professor, ‘Now, Herr Heinkel . . . 
What do you say today. Will it work, or won’t it!’ 

‘It will work in summer, Herr Reichsmarschall.’ 

‘And how many out of ten aircraft will catch fire,’ jeered the Reichsmar- 
schall. ‘Half of them!’ ‘How much fun was made of the enemy’s backwardness,’ 
Goring goaded his audience, ‘about the enemy’s “plodding four- engined 
crates” and so on.’ ‘Make no mistake, gentlemen, the British are going to go 
from strength to strength with their much-mocked “four-engined crates” or 
whatever other fine adjectives you dream up for them. He is going to take on 
city after city. It makes no difference to him: he flies with the same sure naviga- 
tion to Munich or Berlin, he can fly as far as Warsaw or Vienna.’ 10 

Then there was the British Mosquito high-speed bomber. ‘It makes me 
furious, when I see the Mosquito,’ he admitted. ‘I turn green and yellow with 



envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock to- 
gether a beautiful wooden aircraft and give it a speed which they have now in- 
creased yet again. What do you make of that! That is an aircraft that every pi- 
ano factory over there is building.’ He recalled with bitterness his experts’ ad- 
vice years before that such a wooden aircraft was impossible. Udet had warned 
him the whole world would laugh them to scorn. Who, asked Goring, was 
laughing now? Why did not the air industry simply copy the captured Stirling 
bomber, Goring asked. ‘Then at least I would have an aircraft with which I 
could do something.’ And why not copy the Mosquito? 

Professor Messerschmitt was stung into retorting that it was much simpler 
to convert an existing aircraft to wooden construction than to design a com- 
pletely new aircraft.* Goring interrupted him: ‘I am just telling you, you 
should take the Mosquito!’ The professor had not meant that, and obstinately 
continued, ‘but it could be any other aircraft.’ Again Goring roared at him: 
‘Why not take the best one!’ Messerschmitt wearily explained, ‘I think it is more 
complicated than that. Wooden construction is by no means simpler.’ ‘It could 
hardly be more complicated than your crates!’ retorted Goring. 

Milch shared this irritation at Professor Messerschmitt’s attitude. Dis- 
cussing the unsuitability of the Me 309 prototype for night- fighting, Messer- 
schmitt actually claimed, ‘I ordered it to be dropped because there is not 
enough capacity for tool-making for its mass production.’ Milch exploded. 
‘Messerschmitt! The 309 was cancelled because it was totally unsatisfactory in 
rate of climb and ceiling, because it did not match the enemy at all.’ The 
Reichsmarschall agreed, and with heavy sarcasm reiterated the Luftwaffe’s basic 
requirements for a fighter: ‘The most modest is that the aircraft must take off 
and land at night without the pilot risking every bone in his body.’f 

The second great area of Hermann Goring’s discontent was radar. By this 

* Milch complained at one meeting that Professor Messerschmitt showed no inclination to visit 
the displays of captured Allied aircraft. 

t As they left the room for luncheon, according to Messerschmitt’s note on the conference, 
Milch crossed the room to him and stated that at times he had been so angry with the professor 
that he had had to restrain himself from ‘rushing over and tearing out the last hairs from his 



time the Luftwaffe had long lost the initiative in what is now referred to as elec- 
tronic warfare; and worse was to come. ‘I have long been aware of the fact,’ 
Goring rasped, ‘that there is nothing the British do not have. Whatever the 
equipment we have, the enemy can jam it without so much as a by-your-leave. 
We accept all this as though it were God’s will, and when I get worked up about 
it, the story is, “We haven’t got enough workers.” . . . Gentlemen, it’s not man- 
power you’ve got too little of, it’s brainpower in your brain-boxes, to make the 
inventions we need!’ 11 The Reichsmarschall — who occasionally confessed he was 
incapable of switching on his own radio — did not mince his language about 
German radar: ‘I have frequently taken a look inside such sets,’ he explained 
disarmingly. ‘It does not look all that imposing — just some wires, some more 
wires and a few other bits and pieces; and the whole apparatus is remarkably 
primitive even then.’ 12 

It is true that German radar, operating on half-metre wavelengths, was 
more susceptible to noise jamming than the 9-centimetre wavelengths favoured 
by the British. A creeping campaign of jamming had begun, first from trans- 
mitters based in southern England, and then in specially fitted four- engined 
aircraft over Germany and the occupied countries. But British scientists had 
also developed the simplest jamming method of all — the release of myriad 
metal foil strips into the air, exactly half the German wavelength in size. So sim- 
ple and effective was this device, code-named ‘Window’, that RAF defence 
commanders had successfully delayed its introduction by the bombers in case 
the Germans should discover the technique as well. 13 (From Milch’s documents 
we find that the Germans had already had precisely the same idea but were 
prevented from using it for precisely the same reason by General Martini, the 
shy, academic Chief of Air Signals.) 

In April 1942 Milch had offered researchers a prize for the invention of a 
means of avoiding radar detection. 14 It constantly occurred to him that it ought 
to be possible to get protection ‘by some kind of wire’ or other. 15 A few weeks 
later his chief engineer confirmed, ‘If you scatter out wires the radar picture is 
so distorted that it is impossible to make accurate calculations. You don’t even 
need a jamming transmitter for this — just a few leaves of aluminium or some- 
thing.’ 16 In August Colonel Schwenke had reported primitive British attempts 



to dupe their Freya early-warning radar by floating metal foils toward Germany 
suspended on balloons. ‘They would have a degree of success, if these were used 
in much larger scale under certain weather conditions,’ he advised. 17 

Armed with hindsight, we can see that an urgent investigation of 
counter-measures should have followed this report. But even more explicit in- 
formation did not have this result. Early in September 1942 it was alleged to 
Milch that the British night bombers were ‘ejecting clouds of fine aluminium 
dust’ to confuse the night fighters’ airborne radar, Lichtenstein. 18 His experts 
now advised him that there was a possibility that the enemy would start a jam- 
ming campaign against the main German radar systems, and their defences 
would then be overwhelmed: ‘It is a big headache for Martini.’ 19 

Milch had instinctively demanded, ‘We must use the same means over 
there, and deceive the enemy,’ but Schwenke pointed out that it would lead to a 
real jamming offensive on both sides, which would affect Germany as well. 
Milch retorted, ‘Let’s not start turning soft. You might as well say, “Then I 
won’t make bigger weapons than he’s got!”’ By the end of November 1942 the 
picture of what the British could do if they ever developed this simple means of 
jamming was complete. An engineer told Milch, ‘If they shower clouds of these 
strips out over a big city, they will remain suspended for about twenty or thirty 
minutes in the air and render our Wurzburg radar temporarily blind . . . Gen- 
eral Martini says this is so secret, that he thinks we must test only over the sea, 
so that these things are destroyed by the waves after we have released them, 
because at present we have no antidote.’ 20 

When, in January 1943, Milch pressed for an extensive jamming campaign 
against British radar, he was told that Martini was emphatically opposed to any 
jamming. ‘He asks that all such experiments to jam the enemy’s radar should be 
dropped for the time being, because there is a simple means whereby the enemy 
can jam our entire radar system, against which we have no antidote.’ 21 For the 
next six months no research was carried out. Only when the British first used 
Window in mass attacks on Hamburg in July and the German radar system was 
overwhelmed, as predicted, did the Luftwaffe begin research on counter-mea- 



Goring and Milch both accepted that the German electronics industry had 
fallen far behind that of the enemy. A basic reason was that while Britain and 
America had actively encouraged amateur radio enthusiasts, in Germany the 
amateurs had been systematically persecuted by the Reich authorities.* Another 
was that each service had developed and manufactured its own equipment (and 
continued to do so until early 1944). 23 Hearing, for example, in September 1942 
that the navy had developed a simple warning device for submarines to alert 
them when an enemy radar set was locating them, Milch demanded a similar set 
for German aircraft: ‘So that the pilot knows immediately, “Aha, somebody’s 
onto me!” — just as a girl suddenly senses a man’s looking at her.’ 24 

The British H2S radar particularly fascinated them. It had been salvaged 
from an aircraft near Rotterdam in February, along with two prisoners. Both 
stubbornly refused to answer questions and maintained they knew nothing 
about the equipment; this behaviour alone proved to the Germans the equip- 
ment must be something special. 25 It weighed about three hundred pounds, 
filled half a dozen cabinets and was clearly being mass produced. ‘It was installed 
in a place in the fuselage where we have also found a hollow space provided in 
the Stirling at Rechlin,’ Milch was told. ‘In the Lancaster bomber there is al- 
ready a remote-controlled platform installed ready for it.’ One thing was cer- 
tain: H2S could not easily be jammed. When Milch commented to Goring that 
the cabinets were so voluminous that no German aircraft was big enough to 
carry them, Goring caustically observed, ‘That’s because they have built those 
“old four-engined crates” for themselves — aircraft so big you could lay out a 
dance floor in them!’ 26 

As usual, the British had designed something the Germans could not even 
imitate. When the unfortunate Martini explained that radar problems could 
frequently be solved in two or three different ways — ‘and there may even be a 
fourth or fifth way which we haven’t yet discerned’ — Goring retorted: ‘You 
can be dead certain that if you have not found out about it, the enemy has!’ ‘I 

* In March 1943 Goring said, ‘The main blame belongs to Ohnesorge [Minister of Posts]. He 
never wanted to relax his grip on anything. We smashed up the amateur radio “ham” clubs . . . 
and we made no effort to help these thousands of small inventors. And now we need them.’ 22 



have never seen such nonsense in my life,’ he raged. ‘I refuse to be led a song 
and dance like this. The enemy can actually see through the clouds whether he 
is over a city or not. We cannot jam him. And then you tell me we also have 
something, but in the same breath you add, “But it can all be jammed by the 
enemy!” Are you trying to make a fool of me? What am I supposed to tell the 
Fiihrer! He would think me a complete nincompoop if I repeated to him what 
you tell me. I ask you again, do we have any such radar set?’ ‘Not yet,’ stam- 
mered Martini. ‘Aha! Not yet! But the British do. Can we jam them?’ ‘We hope 
to be able to in a year’s time.’ ‘That does not interest me two hoots! Can we jam 
them now, at this moment?’ ‘No.’ ‘Good. That is a clear answer. And can the 
enemy jam the equipment we use for navigation, or can he not?’ ‘/awofi/.’ 27 

Six weeks later Goring transferred electronic research and development 
from Martini to Milch. 28 

Goring’s discomfiture would be almost comic, were it not for the growing scale 
of the Allied attacks. During March r943 the RAF had delivered powerful at- 
tacks on many German cities by night, releasing nearly a thousand tons over 
Duisburg, and r,450 tons in two attacks on Berlin. On 3 April nearly a thousand 
tons were dropped on Essen, causing extensive damage to the Krupp factories. 
The American heavy bomber formations battered targets by day in the Nazi- 
occupied countries on Germany’s periphery. On 4 April they killed 228 Pari- 
sians in an attack on the Renault motor factory and 22r Italians in an attack on 
Naples; on the fifth they killed 2430 civilians, including three hundred chil- 
dren, in Antwerp. (Belgium had suffered some six thousand military casualties 
in the Nazi invasion three years before.) All this time Goring contemplated de- 
velopments with increasing lethargy. 29 

Milch warned Goebbels at this time that for the rest of r943 the outlook 
for the Reich’s great cities was melancholy, and added that Goring’s completely 
false direction of the air war must terminate in disaster. 30 He used this danger- 
ous language on the telephone in the certain knowledge that Goring’s tele- 
phone tappers would report it to him. Goebbels invited him to tour the Ruhr’s 
devastated towns a few days later. In the Propaganda Minister’s sleeping car, 
Milch displayed his usual bluntness. ‘Field Marshal Milch spoke in the most 



biting and contemptuous manner of the Reichsmarschall,’ recorded Goebbels. 
‘He accuses him of allowing the Luftwaffe’s technical development to go to the 
dogs. He had fallen asleep on the laurels he had won in 1939 and 1940 . . . The 
consequence is our almost complete defencelessness in the face of this British 
airborne terror.’ 31 

The damage in Essen was very severe. Together they climbed a tall tower 
at Krupp’s and surveyed the gutted shells of the factory buildings. They spoke 
to a meeting of the anxious gauleiters and mayors of the biggest west German 
cities, and Milch defended the Luftwaffe’s record as well as he could. Privately, 
he was able to discuss the future more frankly with Goebbels than with the oth- 
ers. ‘It will not be possible to reply on a large scale to the British attacks until 
November,’ Goebbels summarized. ‘And it will not be until next spring — in 
other words a whole year — before we can really repay them in the same coin 
. . . Until then, the British, if they know their business, will be able to blast and 
burn a major part of the Reich. Milch views the war in the air as very grave.’ 

In an editorial in Das Reich Goebbels had himself spoken of ‘adequate 
means’ which would soon be employed against Britain. He had been referring 
only to organizational changes, but the public unanimously believed Germany 
had developed some deadly new secret weapon. 32 In fact no retaliation would be 
possible until the autumn, as Milch had warned. Even ‘Cherry Stone’, the fly- 
ing bomb, could not be ready until then. 

Its tests had gone perfectly. One fine April day, on the northern tip of 
Peenemiinde West’s airfield, where the Baltic lapped the deserted beaches of a 
one-time holiday haven, Milch watched his engineers prepare a strange steel- 
shelled aircraft with no cockpit on the landward end of a high ramp pointing 
out to sea. Several prototype flying bombs had been launched from aircraft 
during November, and wind-tunnel tests were also now complete. 33 Catapult 
launchings had begun on Christmas Eve, and the pilot-less aircraft was func- 
tioning perfectly. Milch watched as the weapon’s Argus Tube was ignited, the 
catapult was triggered, and the aircraft was hurled into the sky. At about three 
thousand feet it levelled out and streaked away toward the distant horizon, fol- 
lowed by a fast spotter aircraft. Milch was pleased as he flew back to Berlin. 34 



Albert Speer had never been a soldier, and he lacked the experience that four 
years on both fronts had instilled in the field marshal. When the army reported 
its ammunition, clothing, food or explosives ‘consumption’ the Fiihrer and 
Speer automatically believed them. Milch, guardian of the public interest, did 
not. ‘If anything is cut back on,’ he told Central Planning, ‘it naturally hits the 
weakest first, and that’s the German domestic economy.’ 35 He argued for a 
more critical scrutiny of the Wehrmacht’s claims. ‘What do they really mean by 
“consumption”?’ ‘Consumption is certainly not what they have actually fired. I 
am convinced they do not count up the ammunition that has actually passed 
through the gun barrels. They list as “ammunition fired” the quantity they 
draw from the ammunition dumps.’ The point was that they made no mention 
of the quantities they simply abandoned during retreats. 36 Milch proposed that 
they show Hitler the quantities of artillery ammunition actually fired during 
the First World War, compared with the huge stocks still left at the time of the 
Armistice. ‘The raw materials squandered here are urgently needed for agri- 
culture,’ 37 he pointed out. The two government nutrition experts he had 
summoned to the Central Planning meeting fully supported his argument. ‘We 
must still have food to eat in 1947. If we shut our eyes to this, then we are de- 
ceiving ourselves.’ He reminded his colleagues that it was the starvation of 1918 
that had caused the final collapse then, and he repeated his insistence that the 
nitrogen demands on German agriculture be met. 38 

As on earlier occasions, Speer disagreed with Milch. ‘If you challenge the 
Fiihrer about ammunition,’ he warned, ‘you are banging your head against a 
brick wall.’ 39 

The British bombing offensive was becoming increasingly accurate. Late in April 
1943 the Germans found out why — they recovered intact the new British Mark 
xiv bombsight, superior even to the American Norden bombsight already in 
their hands. 40 The British device was fully automatic and coupled to a small 
computer which allowed for the aircraft’s most violent evasive actions. Fur- 
thermore, from reports of conferences between the British Minister of Aircraft 
Production (Sir Stafford Cripps) and the Air Council, supplied by an agent in 
Whitehall, the Germans also knew that the British had produced 1,920 front- 



line aircraft during April, with ever-increasing emphasis on the ‘four-engined 
crates’ to which Goring had referred. 41 

By May 1943 there had been several violent attacks on the Ruhr. Fifteen 
hundred tons of bombs were dropped each night on cities like Duisburg and 
Dortmund. A handful of RAF Lancaster bombers, each carrying one special 
rotating bomb, smashed the dams controlling the water supplies of the Ruhr; a 
week later a squadron of Mosquitoes carried out a low-level daylight attack on 
the Zeiss optical factory at Jena, and not one was shot down. Goring remon- 
strated with his generals, ‘My own men say, “We are not quite sure whether we 
will be able to find London in bad weather.” But the gentlemen on the other 
side come over and find a dam lying swathed in mist at night, and whack right 
into it!’ 42 And on another occasion, ‘I have to admit, my respect for those gen- 
tlemen grows with every hour. I don’t mind having to put up with the occa- 
sional tip-and-run attack on the coast, but Jena lies right in the heart of Ger- 
many! One has to admit, what dash and courage on the one hand, and what 
contempt for our own fighter defences on the other!’ 43 

On 8 May Hitler told Milch, ‘There’s something wrong with the Luft- 
waffe, and it’s either with its tactics or its technology.’ 44 Milch suggested it was 
the current tactics that were wrong, and patiently explained his steps to bring 
aircraft production up to three thousand a month by the end of the year. He 
himself had no control over how they were tactically employed. Hitler de- 
manded that each of the new fighter aircraft must be capable of carrying a 
bomb. 45 After seeing Hitler on the same day, Goebbels summarized: 

The technical failure of the Luftwaffe results mainly from useless 
aircraft designs. It is here that Udet bears the fullest measure of the 
blame. Well may he have tried to expiate this by his suicide, but this 
has not helped our situation very much. Speer is very disturbed by 
all this, but believes that Milch will probably succeed in leading us 
out of the woods. The public shows its common sense when they 
rumour that it is Goring himself who is to blame. Goring has put 
his old First World War comrades too much to the fore, and these 



are obviously not equal to the burdens of leadership that war places 
on them. 46 

Hitler shared Speer’s view of Milch. When General Galland visited the 
Fiihrer on 25 May, the latter confided in him that the Luftwaffe without the 
field marshal ‘just did not bear thinking about’. 47 





May- July 1943 

the messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft first flew in July 1942; it did not enter 
squadron service with the Luftwaffe until the autumn of 1944 — too late to have 
a decisive effect on the outcome of the war. In retrospect we can see where the 
mistakes between those dates were made: Air Ministry priority was granted too 
late, and as soon as it was granted Professor Messerschmitt lost interest in the 
aircraft and turned his attention to still newer projects; and at a late stage in the 
fighter version’s production programme Hitler insisted that a bomber version 
be manufactured first, a decision for which Messerschmitt himself was princi- 
pally to blame, as we shall see. 

The aircraft had barely been mentioned in production studies before Feb- 
ruary 1943, and then, as Milch told the Reichsmarschall in that month, only so 
that it would not be overlooked completely. 1 Goring, who had been shown the 
research long before the war, unhappily reflected in March: ‘When I asked at 
that time when we should be seeing them, I was told, “In one and a half to two 
years’ time.” And now that I get the facts from the horse’s mouth I hear that it 
is still two years — at least that’s the way it looks!’ 2 

The professor, of course, has never accepted responsibility. Looking back 
after Germany’s defeat he inevitably recognized the delays to his most prestig- 
ious aircraft as a major factor, but he confidently blamed Milch, by then incar- 
cerated by the Americans and unable to reply. 3 More recently he has declared: 



‘Milch regarded the whole thing as a frivolity and prohibited us to work fur- 
ther on it.’ 4 Messerschmitt has also alleged that he himself winced at Hitler’s 
‘intrinsically absurd’ idea for a bomber version of the Me 262. After the war the 
British captured the Air Ministry records, however, and seized the personal 
papers of Professor Messerschmitt; they are still held in London and present a 
historically unalterable picture of the tortuous path followed by the controver- 
sial project. 

The novelty was the Junkers turbo-jet engine, and not the Messerschmitt air- 
frame. 5 For years the main difficulty had been the design of the axial compres- 
sor. In July 1939 the Air Ministry had issued a contract for the development of a 
jet engine with 1,300 pounds thrust to Professor Otto Mader, head of the 
Junkers engine research laboratory. 6 The over-all design work was carried out 
by the designer of the successful Jumo 210 piston engine, and the jet engine 
Jumo 004 had its first hot run at the time the Battle of Britain was at its height. 
For eighteen more months the engine underwent improvement, modification 
and tests, and in June 1942 the first pair was delivered to the Messerschmitt 

The Air Ministry had issued a contract for the design of a corresponding 
airframe four years before, and the result, the Me 262, was ready when the en- 
gines arrived. The engines were installed and the aircraft’s first pure jet flight 
took place on 18 July. 7 

It was a tragedy for the project that its development should have lain in 
the hands of a personality — Messerschmitt — in whom Milch had little faith. ‘I 
know only too well how Messerschmitt likes to talk big,’ he would remark. 8 Af- 
ter Udet’s suicide Milch had seen the industry’s immediate duty as being to 
provide enough of the existing aircraft types to prevent the Luftwaffe’s total 
collapse. Throughout 1942 he had lived in a climate of disaster. He was entitled 
to fear that the Jumo 004 jet engines might develop the same maladies in mass 
production as had plagued the power plants of the He 177 and Ju 288 bombers, 
and in this he was to prove right. Moreover, in January 1943 there was still no 
Air Staff requirement for a jet fighter. 9 Nevertheless, before departing for the 
Stalingrad mission Milch had asked General Vorwald ‘as a last request’ to put 



pressure on Messerschmitt to complete the Me 262, and the result was that a few 
days later the ministry accorded priority to the completion of a small number 
of prototypes. 

By the spring of 1943 the Messerschmitt company was tooling up for pro- 
duction of the piston-engined Me 209, a successor to the Me 109G, to be pow- 
ered by the new Daimler-Benz 603 engine. As recently as the end of March 
Milch’s view had been that the company should concentrate on this and the Me 
410, desperately needed for the war against Britain, and on nothing else 10 ; the 
jet fighter prototypes should be completed by some other firm. Messerschmitt 
was wounded by Milch’s lack of faith in him, but did little to promote the Me 
262 despite the ministry’s January priority order. He removed designers work- 
ing on it to work on the Me 410 instead, and in April he wrote to the ministry 
that the jet fighter had been shelved sine die for this reason. 11 He had however 
drawn up a ‘crash programme’ under which (given top priority) forty jet air- 
craft could be manufactured by the end of 1944. This was hardly likely to at- 
tract Milch’s enthusiasm. 12 

The final cloud in the midst of this climate of mutual mistrust between 
Messerschmitt and Milch came in May. Milch was told confidentially that the 
piston-engined Me 209, due to enter squadron service early in 1945, would 
probably be inferior in rate of climb and manoeuvrability to the Me 109G and 
the FW 190D which were already in service. Thus the question of the next gen- 
eration of fighter aircraft was suddenly wide open again. In April one of Gal- 
land’s pilots had test-flown the jet fighter and reported that it was so good it 
could be sent to the squadrons as it was. Milch now turned his attention to the 
possibility of converting directly, without an interim fighter, to the Me 262 — a 
possibility fraught with risks. 13 Torn between his confidence in the Junkers 
power plant and his mistrust of Messerschmitt, he asked Galland, whose 
judgement he trusted implicitly, to test the Me 262 himself. 14 

On 22 May Galland flew the aircraft for the first time, and telephoned 
Milch in excitement that it flew ‘as though an angel’s pushing’. 15 He wrote an 
exemplary one-page report which was to shake the whole aircraft programme: 
‘The aircraft could be our biggest chance, it could guarantee us an unimagin- 
able lead over the enemy if he adheres to the piston engine.’ 16 



Galland’s proposal was that the inadequate Me 209 fighter should be 
scrapped forthwith, and the design and production capacity transferred im- 
mediately to the Me 262. ‘I think the decision is correct,’ one of Milch’s depart- 
mental heads said. ‘But what a decision!’ Milch agreed: ‘A clear course of ac- 
tion!’ 17 Top priority was now granted to the Me 262 jet fighter at last, subject to 
Goring’s consent. The company was invited to manufacture the first hundred 
before the year was over. 18 Milch (‘I may hesitate about unimportant matters, 
but on important ones there’s nobody who decides faster!’) informed the 
Reichsmarschall by telephone of the proposal to cancel the Me 209, and Goring 
approved without hesitation. 19 

They were none too soon with the decision. Three days later Colonel 
Schwenke announced that a reliable British prisoner had reported seeing a 
British jet aircraft flying ‘very fast’ at Farnborough, Britain’s Peenemiinde. 20 

On 26 May Milch flew to Peenemiinde, where the army’s fourteen-ton A4 
rocket was to be matched against the Luftwaffe’s flying-bomb. Both could carry 
a one-ton warhead to London, but Wernher von Braun’s rocket would cost 
about a hundred times as much as each of Milch’s flying bombs. The rocket’s 
history went back seven years, so the army was understandably loath to cancel 
it; and as it was an army project even a levelheaded weapons man like Speer felt 
it his duty to support this anachronism in an age of Total War. Had it been 
designed with the specific object of destroying the basis for Milch’s increased 
aircraft production, it could not have selected scarcer commodities. By the first 
months of 1944 it was to employ two hundred thousand skilled workers, con- 
sume a thousand tons of aluminium a month and tens of thousands of tons of 
liquid oxygen, pure alcohol and hydrogen peroxide; it would swamp the elec- 
tronics and precision mechanisms industry with contracts and use up every 
available machine tool. 

The Fi 103 flying-bomb had been designed to avoid these bottlenecks. 
Made of thin sheet steel and fuelled with paraffin, it promised to tie down a 
significant proportion of Britain’s air defences when it was employed, while the 
A4 rocket (the later ‘V-2’), being invulnerable to attack, would not. 

Precisely at noon the army launched its A4 rocket. It vanished into low 



clouds and radar tracking stations followed it sixty-four miles into the strato- 
sphere; it impacted 175 miles away, only three miles from its target centre — a 
very flattering performance for the otherwise inaccurate missile. 21 At the Luft- 
waffe airfield meanwhile, Luftwaffe engineers had prepared a flying bomb on its 
catapult. Milch watched aghast as it plunged into the sea after flying barely a 
mile. A second flying bomb repeated this unspectacular trajectory. When von 
Braun’s technicians launched a second A4 rocket, it leapt toward the high ceil- 
ing of thin cirrus clouds atop a lengthening pillar of dazzling white flame, then 
something went wrong. It began to topple, and within seconds it had crashed 
into the airfield within sight of everybody. The smile returned to Milch’s face. 
The decision was taken to allow both missile projects to proceed side by side, but 
Speer allowed the A4 rocket to be placed into the highest priority rating, DE. 

Milch forbade further demonstrations. ‘However high and mighty the 
personage who visits Peenemiinde, the bomb is not to be demonstrated.’ 22 He 
knew it would work when the time came. He planned mass production to start 
with a hundred in August, rising to five hundred a month in September and 
five thousand a month from April 1944. 23 Three thousand tons of steel would 
be needed over the next three months for the bombs and their catapults. Milch 
suspected that Speer would object that the weapon could not be ready if it did 
not always function properly; but his staff urged him to proceed none the less, 
although they admitted that Speer was boasting that the rocketeers would get 
their campaign started first. Soon Speer’s lieutenant Saur was demanding the 
release of skilled workers for A4 electronic components production. 24 The 
struggle between the rocket and the flying-bomb, and the desperate needs of 
home defence, was just beginning. 

In the last week of May the British continued to ravage the Ruhr’s larger cities, 
with two thousand tons of bombs dropped in single attacks on Dortmund and 
Diisseldorf on the twenty- third and twenty- fifth; on the twenty-seventh an 
Oboe attack on the Ruhr town of Wuppertal killed 2,450 civilians and made 
118,000 people homeless within barely fifteen minutes. Milch repeated his 
warnings of the need to do more for the home front. 



The German people [he said] have become accustomed to the fact, 
as far as one can become accustomed to such a thing, that each night 
one town or other is heavily bombarded. But it will not understand 
it, if one fine day perhaps a squadron of Flying Fortresses appears in 
broad daylight over Berlin and drops its bombs with parade- 
ground precision without the least action being taken to prevent it. 

The attack on Jena has struck deeply at public morale and at its faith 
in the Luftwaffe, although the damage itself was not all that severe. 

It is not a pretty situation, and we cannot have many more of them 
. . . What has happened in Dortmund, in Bochum and in Wup- 
pertal is far worse than anything that has happened at the front. 
Because, when things get as bad as that, the soldier just gives up the 
fight; but the civilian population has to stick it out . 25 

The devastation continued. On ri June Bomber Command released two 
thousand tons of bombs on Diisseldorf, killing vast numbers and rendering a 
hundred thousand homeless. On the next night, fifteen hundred tons were 
dropped on Bochum, and after that the target was Oberhausen, a steel town. A 
German bomber commander, Major Hajo Herrmann, gave Milch an eye- 
witness account of the Diisseldorf attack: ‘The tactics are remarkably primitive: 
the first aircraft arrives and releases his cascades of markers over the target and 
on the target itself; then he puts out a red fireball about fifteen thousand feet 
up. Every minute a green flare is emitted from this fireball; when this goes out, 
another one is emitted, so that even the stupidest pilot can see the signal from as 
far away as the Thames Estuary.’ The city itself was enveloped in a cumulus of 
smoke, rising to ten or twelve thousand feet like a huge thundercloud through 
which the radar-controlled flak batteries had continued to fire at the aircraft. 
‘From a distance it looked as though the whole city was one huge sea of fire .’ 26 

Milch spent some days in the west inspecting the radar and fighter de- 
fence systems. He reported to Goring that the defences were still numerically 
too weak, and he asked that the daylight fighter squadrons be quadrupled ‘until 
the Americans lose all pleasure in their handiwork ’. 27 At wing level he had 
found the leadership excellent, but he suggested a radical change in the com- 



mand structure in the west — the whole air force there should be put under 
one commander, with a Flak Command and three others identical in purpose to 
the RAF’s Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands subordinate to him; he 
much admired the British system, and had made a similar suggestion to Hitler 
during their talk in March. 

He called a Berlin conference to discuss a revision of their fighter defence 
tactics. 28 It was evident that more flexible tactics than those so painstakingly 
developed in the Kammhuber Line were necessary if the mass incursions by the 
RAF night bombers were to be halted. In 1940 he had in vain called for the use 
of single-seater fighters at night; this proposal had been ignored until recently, 
when Major Herrmann had commenced unofficial night-fighting experiments 
with borrowed single-seater (i.e., day-fighter) aircraft over Berlin. They were 
unofficial experiments, because Kammhuber had again rejected the idea as re- 
cently as February 1943. 29 

The need for an improved defence was ever more pressing. In the third 
week of June the RAF dropped two thousand tons of bombs on Krefeld, 1,640 
tons on Miilheim and Oberhausen, 1,660 tons on Wuppertal, and 1,300 tons on 
Gelsenkirchen. In the town of Wuppertal the civilian deathroll was brought up 
to eight thousand in the two attacks. On the twenty-second Hitler assured 
Goebbels he had ordered a major expansion of the Ruhr’s defences and prom- 
ised that by autumn reprisal attacks by rocket and bomber would have begun 
against the British Isles. Goebbels recorded afterward, ‘Air force generals make 
rotten technicians. If the Luftwaffe’s expansion had been entrusted at the right 
time to Milch — or better still, to Speer — then we should most certainly be far 
better off than we are at present.’ 30 

Five days later Hitler summoned the seven top aircraft designers to the 
Obersalzberg and interrogated each in turn. 31 Heinkel — now displaced in his 
own factory by a government ‘Kommissar 32 — excused his He 177’s tardiness by 
the ‘hitherto unshakable requirement that it should dive-bomb’ (although 
Goring had emphatically removed this requirement ten months before). Mess- 
erschmitt’s contribution to Hitler’s state of mind was even more remarkable. 
For an hour he heaped criticism on Milch, and actually warned Hitler and 
Speer — who chanced to come in — against the folly of mass producing the Me 



262 jet fighter, since its fuel consumption was, he alleged, higher than that of 
piston-engined fighters like the Me 209 which Milch in his sublime ignorance 
had now cancelled.* Thus at the very time that Milch was campaigning for pri- 
ority for the jet fighter, its own designer was sowing the seeds of doubt in Hit- 
ler’s mind. 34 

Milch was an advocate of Schwerpunkt fighting. 35 He believed that the Luftwaffe 
should be applied in strength to only one front at a time, and by that he meant 
the defence of the home base. And within that front the maximum possible 
number of aircraft should be brought to bear on the enemy. This was where the 
Kammhuber Line failed: the enemy bombers invaded each night in a mass 
bomber stream, but only a handful of the night-fighters could be brought into 
action. All the others had to remain inactive in their ‘boxes’. 36 

Herrmann’s solution was the establishment of a Schwerpunkt by hurling 
masses of fighters at masses of attacking aircraft, and this meant striking where 
the bombers foregathered, right over the target area itself — exploiting the il- 
lumination caused by the fires, searchlights, bomb flashes, parachute flares and 
target-indicator pyrotechnics. 37 Each night in the Ruhr attacks the radar- 
controlled searchlights held up to 140 aircraft for several minutes in their 
beams; these would be easy prey for single-seater fighters, if the flak would stop 
firing. Herrmann suggested crewing a hundred or more normal single-seater 
fighters with freelance bomber pilots and sending them to hunt down the en- 
emy bombers right over the target cities as though it were broad daylight. 

Milch suggested to Goring that this freelance system (later known as 
‘Wild Boar’) be put to the test as soon as possible: ‘If the weather is right we can 
expect considerable results.’ 38 Herrmann moved his experimental flight from 
Berlin to the Ruhr, began selecting crews, and waited for the next RAF attack. 

When Milch’s planning staff now asked, ‘Does Herr F eldmarschall approve that 
we now concentrate on single- and twin-engined fighter production, at the 

* He did not mention that the jet engine used low-grade fuels, which needed one less stage of 
hydrogenation and were thus far more plentiful than aviation spirit . 33 



expense of bombers?’ he replied, ‘Indeed I do.’ 39 He wrote to Goring repeating 
a two-month-old suggestion that one month’s entire fighter production (about 
a thousand aircraft) be allocated immediately to the Reich’s defence. 40 But 
Goring would not receive him, so Milch invited the Fuhrer’s adjutant von Be- 
low to ministry conferences, and to meet the foremost Luftwaffe officers and 
ministry experts privately at his hunting lodge. 41 This must have had some 
effect, for early in July 1943 the Ffihrer approved that the western fighter de- 
fences should be intensified. 42 

The state secretary had not seen Goring for six weeks. While Milch toiled 
in Berlin’s stifling heat, Goring holidayed on the Obersalzberg, forcing Milch to 
put all his communications on paper throughout June: he appealed for protec- 
tion from draft for the skilled workers now engaged on the Me 262 jet fighter, 
on its jet engines, on night-fighters and on the TSA precision bombsight re- 
cently developed by Zeiss 43 ; he suggested that they plan now for massive de- 
fences for the flying-bomb catapult sites in France, since ‘after this weapon off- 
ensive begins, our fighters and flak will find magnificent opportunities of anni- 
hilating the enemy air force which will be forced to attack them.’ 44 And of 
course he sent Goring a lengthy report on his tour of the western air defence 

He finally saw the familiar pearl-grey uniform and flashing rings on 2 
July at Goring’s hunting lodge, Rominten, in East Prussia. The Reichsmarschall 
had summoned all the Luftflotte commanders to discuss the new eastern offen- 
sive, ‘ Zitadelle , due to begin in three days’ time. 45 Here the estrangement be- 
tween Goring and his state secretary was made more public than ever before. 
When Goring referred on the following day to the ‘cowardice’ of their flying 
personnel, Milch was the only officer present to speak out against him. 46 He had 
assessed aircrew morale very highly in his inspection report in June, and he 
referred to the proposals he had made for improving the command structure. 
In front of all the other field marshals and generals, Goring angrily rounded on 
Milch: ‘You don’t imagine that I actually read the rags you send me!’ Milch 
stonily commented that in that case it was superfluous for him to make further 
inspection trips as Inspector General; Goring retorted that as far as he was con- 
cerned, he need not. 47 Milch returned angrily to Berlin. 



That night, six hundred RAF heavy bombers attacked Cologne, on the 
fringe of the Ruhr. This time, Major Herrmann had twelve single-engined 
fighter aircraft ready — five FW 190s and seven Me 109s — to test his proposals 
over the city, which was soon brilliantly lit up by fires and flares. He reported to 
Milch three days later: ‘I opened fire on one bomber, which began to burn at 
once but carried on flying for about four minutes although it was on fire. So I 
let him have it again from one side, right in the cockpit, and then it went down 
like a stone — the crew must have been hit.’ Within the space of a minute, he 
had seen ten or fifteen aircraft, clearly identifiable from their exhaust flames 
and sitting targets for a fast single-seater. If in doubt, one only had to wait 
around near the target-indicator flares. He estimated that given enough aircraft 
he could shoot down up to eighty enemy bombers a night. He already had 120 
crews picked out for Wild Boar, but they still had only fifteen aircraft scraped 
together from different establishments. 48 

‘Didn’t the flak down below know you were there?’ asked Milch. ‘They 
had no idea!’ said Herrmann. ‘I suppose they were amazed when the bombers 
started dropping like flies?’ ‘They were astounded to find ten or eleven down, 
when they had shot down only two the day before,’ laughed Herrmann. Gen- 
eral Vorwald and Field Marshal Milch both exclaimed in relief, ‘It seems we have 
broken the spell.’ 

A few days later, the German agent in the British Air Ministry provided 
further transcripts of Whitehall conferences, which showed that the RAF’s re- 
cent losses of heavy bombers were even more severe than the Germans knew. 
Schwenke suggested to Milch that if they could increase British casualties by 
about a fifth, the enemy would have to give serious consideration to means of 
avoiding further losses. 49 This was a problem to which RAF Bomber Command 
had already faced up; the solution was reached on 15 July, with a decision that as 
from 23 July the embargo on the use of the secret foil strips to jam Kam- 
mhuber’s radar system would be lifted. 50 

Five days after operation Zitadelle began, the Allies landed in Sicily supported 
by three thousand aircraft; on 12 July the Russians opened a counter-offensive; 
Hitler ordered Zitadelle to be halted, and air reinforcements rushed to Italy. 



In vain Milch argued at Hitler’s headquarters that the defence of the 
home base was a prerequisite for any operations by the Germans in Sicily or 
anywhere else. 51 ‘If something happens to us here,’ he pointed out, ‘whatever 
happens elsewhere is of no interest.’ Returning to Berlin he told his depart- 
mental heads, ‘I have just been up there trying to sort them out a bit about the 
future. I can only keep saying, for us 1943 is a year to sit tight and clench our 
teeth.’ 52 Discussing the allocation of twin-engined fighter aircraft in mid-July, 
he again emphasized: ‘Let us first of all set our houses in Germany, Italy and 
Japan in order.’ When an Air Staff general protested, ‘ Herr Feldmarschall, it’s 
like this: there’s heavy fighting down in Sicily, and they . . .’ Milch interrupted 
him: ‘I know, they are screaming blue murder! But the more the people scream, 
the calmer we must keep.’ For him the coming battlefield was not in Sicily or at 
Kursk, but in the Reich itself. ‘There is only one worry,’ he said, ‘and that is 
that in some way the enemy again catches us on the hop with some radar trick- 
ery or other, and we have to start trotting after him again.’ 





July-September 1943 

in the last few weeks before the Hamburg catastrophe in the summer of 
1943, Field Marshal Milch exhorted the leading German politicians and officers 
to support his campaign for concentration on the defence of the Reich. 1 Hitler 
did not believe that the low casualties the night-fighters were currently 
inflicting on the enemy would alone prevent the air attacks: ‘You can only 
smash terror with counter-terror,’ he told Goring and Milch. ‘You have to 
counter-attack. Anything else is useless.’ When they touched on the possibility 
of night intruder aircraft attacking British airfields, Hitler observed that if the 
Luftwaffe could not find London by night, it was hardly likely to find an indi- 
vidual bomber airfield. 

‘It’s a scandal!’ Hitler told his own staff two days later. ‘And I said pre- 
cisely that to the Reichsmarschall. I did not mince my words. And then I have 
to listen to some nincompoop telling me, “Yes, mein Ftihrer, if they come to 
Dortmund from Britain with their present radio beam system they can lay their 
bombs down on factory buildings 500 yards wide by 250 yards long.” But we 
can’t find London, thirty miles across and only a hundred miles from our 
shores!’ 2 

On 24 July catastrophe fell upon Hamburg. Seven hundred heavy bomb- 
ers attacked the port and city, first releasing cascades of millions of strips of 
metal foil about twelve inches long into the sky — the simple means of jamming 



the gun-laying and fighter control Wurzburg radar sets which Martini had 
feared all along . 3 While the searchlights wandered aimlessly over Hamburg’s 
sky, and the blinded night-fighter aircraft fumbled in the darkness, fifteen 
hundred civilians were killed and much of the city devastated. Only twelve 
bombers were shot down. The Luftwaffe’s ignominy was complete, for no 
counter-measure had been developed against the dreaded foil strips. 

The results of the RAF attack on Hamburg in July 1943. 
This was what caused Milch to demand priority for Reich 
defence, (german high command) 

Next day over a hundred American bombers again attacked Hamburg to 
hamper the fire-fighting, and that evening six hundred British bombers at- 
tacked Essen. ‘Gentlemen,’ observed Milch on the twenty- seventh, ‘we are no 
longer on the offensive. For the last one and a half or two years we have been on 
the defensive. This fact is now apparently recognized even at the highest levels 
of the Luftwaffe command.’ He continued, ‘For the last three months I have 
been asking for one month’s fighter production to be assigned to home defence. 
This would have made attacks like those yesterday on Hamburg and Hanover 
quite impossible ... I keep getting the feeling that anything may still happen !’ 4 

That evening Hamburg suffered renewed violence. Again enveloped in 



metal foil, the bombers released 2,300 tons of high explosives and fire bombs 
over the city, tinder-dry after weeks of drought. Tremendous fires broke out. 
The water mains had been smashed in the earlier attacks, and soon the fires 
were out of control, sweeping across the city with horrifying speed. Tens of 
thousands of the inhabitants were sucked into the inferno by the artificial hur- 
ricanes raging through the streets, incinerated alive in the giant concrete air- 
raid shelters or poisoned by the carbon monoxide, a feature of these ‘fire-storm’ 
attacks. Fifty thousand people died. Now at last Goring ordered the Schwer- 
punkt to be switched to the defence of the Reich. 5 Milch was ordered to report 
to him and Hitler on the twenty- ninth. 

Milch asked Colonel Victor von Lossberg, a bomber expert, to pilot him. Dur- 
ing the night, an idea occurred to von Lossberg for a fighter defence system to 
defeat — indeed to exploit — the British metal-foil jamming, a night-fighter 
system which promised to bring a greater weight of aircraft to bear on the en- 
emy than Kammhuber’s rigid system. Squadrons of twin-engined fighters 
should assemble over Holland, awaiting the enemy bomber stream; each unit 
would follow a shadower, itself transmitting a radio beacon, guided by a ground 
controller into the very vanguard of the approaching bomber stream by means 
of the Y radio-beam guidance system. Once guided into the stream, the fighters 
would hunt freelance, using the latest radar sets. Von Lossberg also recom- 
mended reinforcing Herrmann’s increasingly successful Wild Boar operations 
over the target area. In this way the British aircraft would be engaged not only 
by the Kammhuber Line but along the whole route from the coast to the target 
and over the target itself. 6 

‘By these means,’ suggested Lossberg, ‘between two and three hundred 
night-fighters inclusive of the Herrmann Wing could be brought to bear; in 
other words, at least a threefold increase on the present rate.’ 7 The British 
bombers could soon be suffering enormous losses every night. Goring ordered a 
full-scale investigation of the proposals. Meantime Hamburg had again been 
heavily attacked; over two thousand tons of bombs were released on the resi- 
dential areas. But thanks to Herrmann’s new Wild Boar tactics, the British losses 
were mounting too. Twenty-eight bombers had been shot down, despite the 



radar-jamming effort. 8 

It is evident that Milch believed that Germany’s home front now faced a threat 
no less than confronted the Sixth Army at Stalingrad: ‘It is one minute to 
twelve. It is a matter of trying to turn back the clock of Germany’s destiny, no 
less.’ He tackled this crisis with the same energy and decisiveness as had charac- 
terized his special mission at Taganrog. Despite the Fiihrer’s emphatic objec- 
tions, he ordered that their new Schwerpunkt was to be the production of 
fighter aircraft; to square his own conscience, he listed the flying-bomb as well. 
In a brief preliminary discussion on 30 July he laid the foundations of a ‘Reich 
Defence Programme’, retargeting fighter production alone at three thousand a 
month instead of two thousand, by the summer of 1944. 9 

When the investigation of von Lossberg’s proposal began, as commanded 
by Goring, Milch warned: ‘What has happened in Hamburg has never hap- 
pened before, not even during our attacks on Britain. The casualties in Ham- 
burg — dead alone — are put at fifty thousand as of today, most of them caused 
by the immense conflagrations . . . These attacks on Hamburg strike deep at our 
nation’s morale.’ Weighing his words carefully he continued, ‘If we do not suc- 
ceed in smashing these terror attacks by day and by night very soon, then we 
must expect a very difficult situation to arise for Germany.’ Kammhuber at- 
tempted to block the new proposals, but was overruled. 10 That afternoon the 
first Lichtenstein SN-2 radar sets were installed in the Ju 188s which were to 
serve as the ‘shadowers’. 

To Germany’s leaders, Hamburg seemed momentarily to spell the beginning of 
the end. Speer candidly prophesied in Central Planning: ‘If the air raids con- 
tinue on this scale, three months will see us relieved of many a problem exer- 
cising us today. Things will slide downhill smoothly, irrevocably and compara- 
tively fast! The pressing question is simply this: can we manufacture more sin- 
gle-engined and more twin-engined fighters? And if so, what can we shut down 
to that end? Otherwise we might as well hold the last meeting of Central Plan- 
ning!’ 11 At Milch’s hunting lodge Speer expressed himself even more pessimisti- 
cally two evenings later. 12 To the Fiihrer, on 1 August, Speer predicted that, if 



things continued in this way, within eight weeks he could no longer guarantee a 
production effort; and if the same catastrophe were to befall just six more cities, 
the war would be over . 13 

Even Milch’s iron shell of optimism was corroded by this mood of defeat- 
ism. When the ministers and gauleiters assembled on Hitler’s instructions in 
Berlin on 2 August for Dr Goebbels to ‘inject some cement into them’, Milch 
repeatedly interrupted a discussion on the war in the air with the almost trea- 
sonable outcry, ‘We have lost the war! Finally lost the war /’ Goebbels had to ap- 
peal to his honour as an officer before he would quieten down, and the minister 
complained to his staff afterward, ‘I would just like to see one of my state secre- 
taries dare behave like that — however right he was !’ 14 

During the night the British attacked Hamburg yet again. ‘My own view 
is this,’ Milch lectured to the silent officers who gathered in his ministry. ‘It’s 
much blacker than Speer paints it. If we get just five or six more attacks like 
these on Hamburg, the German people will just lay down their tools, however 
great their willpower. I keep saying, the steps that are being taken now are being 
taken too late. There can be no more talk of night- fighting in the east, or of 
putting an umbrella over our troops in Sicily or anything like that. The soldier 
on the battlefield will just have to dig a hole, crawl into it and wait until the at- 
tack is over. What the home front is suffering now cannot be suffered very 
much longer.’ That day he cabled Goring in these terms: ‘It is not the front 
which is under attack and struggling for survival, but the home base, which is 
fighting a desperate fight.’ When General Meister, deputy Chief of Air Staff, 
declined his suggestion that two idle long-range fighter squadrons should be 
taken out of the eastern front and sent back to the Reich, Milch reproached 
him: ‘I keep getting this feeling that we are all sitting out on a limb. At this limb, 
the British keep sawing away! Here at home I can hear the rasp of the saw. You 
out there, Meister, are farther away, and are deaf to it .’ 15 

By now he was manufacturing over a thousand new fighter aircraft every 
month, but still they were being dissipated in every theatre. From a military 
point of view this was not acceptable: the battle in the air should have been 
fought from the rear forward, just as on the ground. The enemy bombers 



should have been swept away from the centre of Germany, and finally far be- 
yond the English Channel if that were possible. 16 But this could be done only by 
summoning up every ounce of fighter strength. This was going to be ‘the year 
of clenched teeth’, Milch had often warned. When Colonel Peltz volunteered 
the better part of his bomber strength for the defence of the Reich, Milch 
praised his vision: ‘Attacking Britain with twenty or thirty aircraft only makes 
us look ridiculous. We don’t impress the British like that, we just show them 
what we are capable of under circumstances like these. But if we do nothing, 
then they will say, “They must be up to something.’” 17 

In many senses Milch was up to something. The Fi 103 flying-bomb was 
scheduled for operation by the autumn; the first hundred jet fighters were 
planned for the spring of 1944, and the Ar 234 jet bombers were to reach squad- 
ron service later in the year. Of the secret flying-bomb catapult sites being con- 
structed along the Channel coast, Milch predicted: ‘This is where we will bury 
the British air force. If they bring over their bombers and we can collect our 
fighters just as they attack, then we shall no longer need fighter defences in the 
rear — we can throw them right forward to the coast.’ 18 He prophesied that the 
Americans would also soon have to devote their effort to daylight attacks on the 
catapult sites in France (since the RAF night-bombers were not suited for such 
work). ‘In a short time we can tear them limb from limb. After one or two bat- 
tles like that they will be so washed up that they will need two weeks before they 
can attack again. And the aircraft and airmen we knock out over there cannot 
visit us in Germany any more.’ 19 

But the flying-bomb was still encountering difficulties. The whole project 
needed nearly three thousand more workers, and nobody was parting with 
them, least of all the army, which had the A4 rocket project to look after. Speer 
had used the aftermath of Hamburg to chisel out of Hitler a formidable decree 
assigning top priority to the rocket’s mass production. 20 The test launchings of 
the flying-bomb at Peenemiinde had unexpectedly produced a disappointing 
number of failures. One ranging shot had however covered 140 miles, and the 
bombs were otherwise travelling at cruising altitudes of four thousand feet and 
speeds up to four hundred miles per hour. 21 By August only about sixty per- 
cent of the test launchings were successful, but Milch observed, ‘I will be 



satisfied if the Fi 103 works at all ... A weapon against which the public sees 
there is no real defence has such catastrophic morale effects that by itself — re- 
gardless of what the weapon is — it must have immense consequences.’ 22 He 
expected that Londoners could withstand the damage for two or three days 
under heavy bombardment, or ‘if they are real roughnecks’ for four days; but 
after that it would all be over, and the fires would rage unchecked. Given a 
production of 3,500 flying-bombs a month they could theoretically launch one 
every twelve minutes. ‘They will never endure it. It will be the end of any real 
life in the city.’* 

Early in August 1943 an unexpected blow hit the Me 262 jet-fighter project. The 
Ffihrer suddenly ordered that the Me 209 piston-engined fighter was not to be 
cancelled, although both Milch and Galland believed its performance to be in- 

Three months had passed since Milch’s decision to cancel the Me 209 in 
favour of immediate jet-fighter production. Since then somebody had alerted 
Hitler to the supposed risks of concentrating on jet fighters. ‘The Fuhrer sees it 
as taking too great a risk,’ Milch explained to his disappointed departmental 
heads. He himself regretted this: ‘But I have my orders. I am a soldier, and 
must obey them. We must observe the element of prudence demanded by the 
Fuhrer.’ 24 The Messerschmitt company had undertaken some months earlier to 
complete the pilot series of a hundred by May 1944, manufacturing sixty per 
month thereafter. 25 This new decision would inevitably set back their plans for 
mass production: ‘Obviously Messerschmitt cannot now convert a hundred 
percent to the 262, as he would otherwise have been able.’ The next generation 
of fighter aircraft after the Me 109 and the FW 190 would apparently have to be 
the Me 209 or Kurt Tank’s Ta 153 after all, of which the former was inevitably 
chosen, even though it had still not flown, since the company had more facto- 
ries at its disposal and claimed (falsely) that the tooling-up for the aircraft was 

* Colonel von Lossberg proposed that they use mainly incendiaries in the flying-bomb war- 
heads. ‘One need only look at London as an example. For half a year we bombed London, and 
still London is not in ruins. For three days they bombed Hamburg — and Hamburg is kaputt !’ 23 



eighty- five percent complete. 26 Milch was angry that he could no longer pro- 
mote the jet fighter’s production as he had wanted in May: ‘But this is an inter- 
vention from on high, so the problem will have to be solved some other way.’ 27 
He was convinced Messerschmitt had himself brought about the Fiihrer’s 
change of mind. 28 

Milch’s Reich Defence Programme called for the production of four 
thousand fighter aircraft per month by September 1945; on General Galland’s 
advice he set Me 262 jet-fighter production at a quarter of that total. But for the 
August 1943 decision it could have been far more. 

Meanwhile, Berlin awaited disaster. Everybody knew it was coming. In the first 
week after Hamburg Dr Goebbels had ordered all non-essential civilians to 
leave; a million people were evacuated in anticipation of the raids to come. 

At Hitler’s headquarters the position of General Jeschonnek, Chief of Air 
Staff, became intolerable. He had never busied himself much with defence 
problems, and he had watched in concern as Goring, shunned by Hitler, set up 
his own little ‘Air Staff with Diesing and two or three other colonels, to bypass 
Jeschonnek. 29 Goring began meantime to search for a replacement; von Rich- 
thofen was among the possible candidates. 30 After the American daylight attack 
on Wiener Neustadt’s aircraft factories on 13 August the Fiihrer berated him for 
over an hour in private. Jeschonnek afterward complained to Meister, ‘Why 
does the Fiihrer say all this to me, and not to the Reichsmarschall?’ The answer 
was of course that Goring was Hitler’s chosen successor. Four days later unes- 
corted American bomber formations penetrated deep into Germany and struck 
at the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt complex at 
Regensburg, killing four hundred Messerschmitt workers. 31 The Luftwaffe de- 
stroyed sixty American bombers that day, but again Hitler sent for Jeschonnek 
and upbraided him unmercifully. 32 That night the RAF attacked Peenemiinde, 
the rocket research station, in great force, killing 750 scientists and workers 
there. The defence effort was a fiasco: two hundred of Herrmann’s and von 
Lossberg’s fighters assembled over Berlin by mistake, where the flak opened fire 
on them, because of orders Jeschonnek had issued. 33 He took the only way out, 
and his body was found in the morning with a bullet in the head. He left a note: 



‘It is impossible to work with Goring any longer. Long live the Fiihrer!’ 

The new Chief of Air Staff was Colonel-General Gunter Korten, com- 
mander of the First Air Force, who had been Milch’s staff officer until October 
1936. Milch thought very highly of him. ‘While the newcomer Korten soon 
learned how to gain Hitler’s confidence, his relations with Goring became very 
strained,’ he wrote. ‘Korten, in his diplomatic way, prevented things from 
coming to a head for a long time. At the end of June 1944, however, he con- 
fided to me, as his former chief, that by August 1944 at the latest he wanted to 
resign the post as with the best will in the world he could not get on with 
Goring.’ 34 Before that month came, however, Korten had also met a violent 

Earlier, Goring, Milch and the Chief 
of Air Staff Hans Jeschonnek (center) 
appeared the best of friends in public. 
But after the RAF firestorm raids 
began with a grisly series of attacks on 
the city of Hamburg in July 1943, 
Jeschonnek put a bullet in his head 
at Luftwaffe headquarters. 

(milch collection) 

The writing was plainly on the wall. As the hot summer streets in Berlin lay 
empty and deserted, and those who remained reacted nervously to every siren’s 
sound, Messerschmitt wrote to the industrialists that ‘they could tick off on 
their fingers’ the months Germany’s armaments industry could expect to sur- 
vive. 35 With Jeschonnek dead, Milch persuaded Goring to transfer a number of 
fighter squadrons to Germany from other fronts: ‘In my view this has been 
done so late as to be almost lunatic,’ he commented, but at least it has been 
done.’ 36 He was already searching for dispersal sites for the vital aircraft facto- 
ries. There was talk of giant bomb-proof factories, but the Luftwaffe’s share of 
construction projects had shrunk in 1943 to half that of the previous four years: 



the Luftwaffe was now ranked only sixth, coming after the Reich Railways. 37 

During the summer Milch managed to find over thirty million square 
feet of floor space for evacuation of the factories, but the actual transport was 
hindered by his shortage of transport and fuel. On the railways Speer had se- 
cured top priority for the needs of the ‘Adolf Hitler Panzer Programme’, and 
by autumn the Luftwaffe’s railway wagon allocation had been halved. 38 Goring 
attacked Milch over every damaged factory as though he were personally to 
blame, but when Milch asked for temporary use of the Luftwaffe’s sixty thou- 
sand lorries, the Reichsmarschall refused point-blank. With masters like these 
the Luftwaffe seemed doomed to defeat. 39 

During August 1943 Major Herrmann’s Wild Boar unit had been increased by 
over 150 aircraft; those crews who still had no planes ‘borrowed’ the equipment 
of day-fighter squadrons. The major arranged for high-flying bombers to light 
up the whole target area with parachute flares, to aid his freelance pilots in their 
search for enemy bombers; the flak would put up a barrage of starshells, and 
the searchlight batteries were to illuminate the base of any cloud layers present. 
Milch hoped the RAF would meet its Waterloo over Berlin. ‘One thing is clear: 
the enemy is only a hero when there is no defence! If he runs up against deter- 
mined opposition or meets with a disaster, then for ninety percent of them 
that’s an end to the heroics. And then they will have to think very hard about 
whether to carry on.’ 40 

Three nights later the RAF launched its assault on Berlin. 41 Within an 
hour they had lost fifty-six bombers, mainly to Herrmann’s night-fighters; 
many more were damaged beyond repair. Milch triumphantly reminded his 
men that by March 1944 they would be producing two thousand lighter air- 
craft a month: ‘I give my word that then these night attacks will cease alto- 
gether.’ 42 Nothing could prevent the Allies from manufacturing bombers by 
the thousand; but if the Allied aircrews lost their nerve, this alone would defeat 
the attacks. Again and again the same bleak realization dogged the held marshal: 
‘If we had had enough day- and night-fighters before, all this would never have 
happened. Then we would not now be having to disperse our factories. Then 
no enemy bombers would be coming over.’ 



It was an enigma to him that he stood alone in his fight for the defence of 
the Reich. He found it shameful that the other two services did not volunteer 
vital assistance — raw materials and manpower — for his defence programme. 
‘Not one swine helps us,’ he reflected on 31 August 1943. ‘We have to help our- 
selves. Each of them expresses deepest sympathy, and promises to lay a wreath 
upon our coffin.’ 43 That night six hundred bombers again assaulted Berlin. The 
conditions were good for the night-fighters, and they were marshalled into the 
bomber stream from airfields as far afield as northern Denmark and central 
France — a classic example of Schwerpunkt formation. Between them they de- 
stroyed most of the forty-seven bombers shot down that night. Milch had or- 
dered every means possible to increase the glare on the clouds by searchlights, 
fires and even by burning pots of magnesium in the outskirts, and he had or- 
dered special aircraft to stand by to lay thin trails of mist if the clouds had been 
inadequate. 44 As he told Speer next day, ‘The enemy bombers crawl across them 
like flies on a tablecloth.’ 

Three nights later the RAF attacked the capital again, operating only the 
powerful Fancaster squadrons now; twenty-two were shot down, and the series 
came to an abrupt end. Of the total of 1,719 sorties despatched against Berlin on 
the three nights, only twenty-seven had dropped their bombs within three 
miles of the aiming point. By night at least, within one month of Hamburg, the 
tide was turning firmly in favour of the Fuftwaffe’s new night defences. On 2 
September Field Marshal Milch reported to Goring at his East Prussian hunting 
lodge, and found that all the Reichsmarschall’s old hostility toward him had 
disappeared. 45 





September-October 1943 

until august 1943 the aircraft production programmes established by Milch 
were adhered to, but with the commencement of the Combined Bomber Offen- 
sive the first major setbacks were experienced. The bombing of the five biggest 
aircraft factories and the two biggest repair plants reduced the August output 
by 150 fighters. 1 Not only were the big factories severely harmed, but the smaller 
foundries, press-shops and components manufacturers were affected by the 
area attacks: the shortage of airscrews after Hamburg was such that, of forty- 
two Ju 188s due for delivery in one month, only four could be completed. 2 

Speer’s staff persistently claimed that Milch’s new Reich Defence Pro- 
gramme (‘224’) was unattainable and that even ‘223’, which had been issued in 
April, had stretched the limits imposed on aircraft production anyway by the 
bottleneck in engine crankshaft supplies. 3 When Milch appealed to Speer to set 
fighter production at least on a par with other top-priority programmes for 
supplies, this request was rejected. 4 A number of components, workers and ma- 
chine-tools were promised but none arrived. Speer’s representatives denied that 
these items were really needed. 5 It seemed to the Air Ministry that the Muni- 
tions Ministry* was adopting blocking tactics to secure eventual control of air- 
craft production for itself, as it had done with the naval construction pro- 

* In September 1943 it became the Ministry of Armaments. 



gramme a few weeks before.* 

Professor Messerschmitt also wished to see the industry wrested from 
Milch’s grasp. To Speer and Saur he criticized the one-shift operation of the air 
industry (inevitable because of the manpower shortage); he urged the ruthless 
closing down of the bomber factories in favour of fighters; and he advocated 
production of one million Fi 103 flying-bombs a year. 7 On 7 September he again 
secured Hitler’s ear for his proposals: he alerted Hitler to Milch’s ‘incompe- 
tence’ and spoke of the wonders of the Me 209 fighter aircraft and of the fly- 
ing-bomb project. 8 Then he talked about the Me 262 jet fighter. He considered 
that this aircraft met the requirements recently raised for a fast bomber for at- 
tacking Britain. ‘Its technical lead is so great that this aircraft cannot come into 
service fast enough, as otherwise we must expect the enemy to start coming over 
with similar aircraft before us, or at the same time.’ Unhappily, he did not have 
adequate capacity for mass production of the Me 262, he said; he proposed that 
the rival projects — Milch’s favourite Dornier 335 and the Ar 234 armed recon- 
naissance aircraft and jet bomber — should be cancelled. 9 Hitler had never seen 
a jet aircraft, but the possibility of using the Me 262 as a jet bomber must have 
lodged in his mind, because he asked about it when he saw Goring a month 
later. By the time he saw Milch a month after that, the idea had become a re- 
quirement. We need look no further for the origins of Hitler’s ‘absurd notion’ 
of using the Me 262 as a jet bomber. 10 

Italy’s separate Armistice with the Allies at least brought some relief to the Ger- 
man war economy. Germany had had to supply her ally with two million tons 
of oil fuel in r94i and 1.2 million tons in 1942. 11 But the Italian defection also 
brought major strategic problems: by 27 September British forces had seized 
Foggia and the fifteen airfields surrounding the town; American bomber and 
fighter squadrons moved in. Milch was advised that they had no choice but to 
evacuate what they could of the Italian factories: ‘One thing is clear. The way 

* When Speer took over aircraft production in June 1944, his ministry approved programmes in 
excess of ‘223’ and almost as high as ‘224’, both of which it had declared ‘impracticable’ when 
Milch was still in control. 6 



their base at Foggia lies, the British and Americans have limitless opportunities. 
They can flatten the whole of upper Italy.’ 12 To Milch, who shared Hitler’s dis- 
like of the Italians, this prospect was not without its attractions. ‘On the other 
hand,’ he mused, ‘we ought to leave the factories a certain element of activity, to 
keep them valid as bomber targets, and not us!’ 13 

Reluctantly, he now had to give up all hope of manufacturing Professor 
Gabrielli’s exceptionally fast piston-engined fighter, the Fiat G55, in Italy. 14 
While hundreds of thousands of disarmed Italian soldiers went into captivity, 
German troops took over. The evidence of Italy’s bad faith that they found 
staggered even Milch. The Italians had concealed vast stockpiles of raw materials 
for themselves, while pleading with Germany for more: ‘They had bigger stocks 
of copper than we have!’ fumed Goring. ‘The most amazing is the fuel oil: in 
two tunnels we have found enough fuel oil to have kept their entire navy op- 
erational for a year! The swine put it away, barrel by barrel, and then came to 
me for more: “We would dearly love to fly, but we need the fuel!” I gave them 
another thousand tons — and now we find they had sixty-five thousand tons 
tucked away.’ 15 

On 1 October the American air force began bombing missions against the 
Reich from the newly occupied base at Foggia. The first target was the Messer- 
schmitt factory at Wiener-Neustadt. ‘The south and southeast are now in the 
firing line as well,’ Milch admitted. ‘Our “safe” has been blasted open. I have 
worked out for myself that the distance from Foggia to Vienna is shorter than 
from London to Berlin.’ 16 

The heavily armoured American squadrons were daunting opponents for the 
German fighters, most of them still armed only with relatively small-calibre 
machine-guns. During the summer the enemy began appearing with P-47 
(‘Thunderbolt’) escort fighters as far east as Aachen, and this complicated the 
fighter defence task still further. Milch’s scientists devised many ways of com- 
bating the threat. Because of Air Ministry hostility toward rocket development, 
there were still no adequate ground-to-air or air-to-air missiles, but much effort 
had been expended on more complex methods like proximity fuses for bombs 
and shells operated by remote radio control or on acoustic or magnetic princi- 



pies. The most awe-inspiring was a rocket-propelled five-hundred-pound or 
half-ton bomb which a twin-engined Me 4m could lob into the bomber forma- 
tions from a range of about a thousand yards. 17 

In September a glider pilot who had survived the hazardous operations 
against the Belgian forts and Crete wrote suggesting a suicide squadron for at- 
tacking vital enemy targets; he and his comrades considered they were living on 
borrowed time anyway, and would like a chance to sacrifice themselves for their 
Fatherland. Milch asked General Korten to discuss the idea with Goring. Peter- 
sen suggested packing ageing Ju 88s with explosives and heading them for the 
bomber formations; the pilot could jump out at the last moment, if he could. 
Milch thought the prospects over: ‘I do not know if I would have the courage 
for this myself.’ He had always insisted the pilot must have a chance, however 
slim, of surviving. An engineer pointed out that it only needed an attractive girl 
to cross the man’s path during his suicide-squadron training and the effort 
would be wasted. Milch related to the engineer one such episode of his own 
experience: ‘There was this man who was about to throw his life away, for 
nothing. So he was told, wait a while; we have a little job you can do, where you 
can still throw away your life, but for the good of your country. You will be 
trained for it, and in the meantime you will be given everything you want — 
good accommodation, fine food and perhaps even the young maiden you’ — 
indicating the engineer — ‘mentioned. It all took some time, and when finally 
the day came the man said, “Nothing doing! I’ve changed my mind. Life is too 
beautiful to throw away.’” 18 

Goring asked Korten to begin a list of airmen willing to undertake such 

Meanwhile the RAF was still dormant after the retreat from Berlin. 19 The mood 
was very different from a month before, when Britain’s (and some of Ger- 
many’s) leaders were predicting Germany’s imminent collapse. The autumn of 
r943 saw the German fighter arm increasing daily in its strength. 20 

This was Milch’s achievement alone. In the three months since r July 
German fighter strength in the west had increased from r,288 to 1,646 — an 
increase which confounded the predictions of the British Air Staff. The latter 



had allowed for Germany emerging from the pre-invasion campaign against 
aircraft factories and the fighter defences with perhaps 650 fighters in the west; 
but they now estimated that the Germans would have over 1,700 fighters on the 
western front on the eve of the Allied invasion in 1944. 21 By early November 
1943, when these Allied estimates were made, the prospects of defeating the 
Luftwaffe before an invasion had evidently vanished, and Sir Arthur Harris, 
chief of Bomber Command, was tempting the Prime Minister with the same 
alluring prospect as had been held before Hitler in different circumstances in 
1940: ‘We can wreck Berlin from end to end if the USAAF will come in on it,’ 
Harris promised. ‘It will cost between 400 and 450 aircraft. It will cost Germany 
the war.’ 22 Churchill authorized the attempt. 

The Germans expected it. To defeat the H2S radar sets carried by the 
bombers, they spent the remaining months of the summer dotting the lakes 
around Berlin with metal rafts as radar camouflage; they designed special jam- 
ming transmitters (‘Roderick’) and a simple receiver (‘Naxos Z’) to enable the 
night-fighters to home on to H2S transmissions; and the groundspotting orga- 
nization was alerted to track the H2S emissions of careless bomber crews heading 
into Germany. 23 Major Herrmann’s organization was expanded into three 
wings, and the night-fighters were equipped as far as possible with an improved 
radar, less affected by the metal-foil jamming, and with infrared detectors 
(Spanner). The ground organization was improved, General Kammhuber was 
replaced by Lieutenant-General Schmid as commander of the night-fighter 
squadrons, and scores of airfields, including those of aircraft factories, were 
prepared to receive exhausted fighters landing after the night’s battles. On 
some nights the ground controller would have over 250 fighter aircraft follow- 
ing his commentary on the movements of the marauding enemy bomber 
stream. 24 

The British deduced what was happening and adopted counter-measures. 
They split the bomber stream and attacked several cities simultaneously, leaving 
the German controller guessing until the last moment, and then jamming his 
wireless communications. Using heavy aircraft laden with nothing but trans- 
mitters, they would interpolate fake instructions to the fighter pilots, ordering 
them to the wrong end of Germany or, more subtly, predicting worsening 



weather or ground fog . 25 Major Herrmann reacted by loading a special Ju 88 
with fake Pathfinder flares and releasing them over open country at the precise 
moment of the British Master Bomber’s broadcast. It was a growing nightmare, 
but Milch kept his nerve, confident that the Luftwaffe was winning the air war 
by night — as, for the next six months, it was. 

The new German tactics took some weeks to organize. In the early RAF 
attacks on Bochum and Kassel some German night-fighters were hit by their 
own flak . 26 In early October the RAF surprised the defences at Kassel by first 
feinting toward Hanover and Magdeburg, causing an angry outburst from 
Milch about the inability of the groundspotting organization to report that the 
bomber stream had switched its course. ‘What upsets me is that it is still not 
possible for us to take proper command by night, although we have been em- 
ploying hundreds of thousands of people for this.’ He predicted, ‘You will live 
to see the day when they don’t just attack cities lying on the Rhine, but perhaps 
Munich and Berlin simultaneously. Let’s see how your command system tackles 
that !’ 27 

The RAF had also begun operating long-range night-fighters over Ger- 
many equipped with very efficient radar sets. Milch had often recommended 
that similar German intruder operations should be carried out over RAF 
bomber airfields, and on the night of 2 October there were twenty-two German 
night-fighters mingling with the British bombers as they returned to their 
brightly illuminated airfields after attacking Munich . 28 Hitler disapproved of 
these intruder operations, which were disconcerting for the enemy but not 
spectacular. He told Goring that it was infinitely preferable for the Luftwaffe to 
sustain an attack on British cities than to interfere with the landing manoeuvres 
of enemy bombers; and when it was suggested that the intruders created great 
confusion among the RAF bombers Hitler acidly pointed out, ‘They may be 
confused, but they keep coming !’ 29 

To add to the injury, the American bomber squadrons now resumed their day- 
light assault on Germany’s aircraft industry. During the attack on Emden on 2 
October, H2S-type radar sets were detected aboard the bombers for the first 
time; evidently they had adopted elements of British blind bombing tech- 



nique. 30 Milch made no secret of his respect for American accuracy: ‘When the 
Americans lay down their carpet of bombs somewhere, then anything beneath is 
pretty well matchwood.’ 31 

The industrial quarter of Frankfurt was the matchwood on 4 October. As 
the first news of the attack reached Hitler, his staff assured him, ‘We knew this 
attack was on, from an agent. So the defence commander was forewarned.’ 32 
Forewarned was not forearmed, however. Galland’s fighter squadrons failed 
almost completely to deter the heavily armoured bomber formations. Isolated 
packets of fighter aircraft came sporadically to within a thousand yards of the 
bombers, but then peeled away after a few ineffectual machine-gun bursts. (The 
eighteen-bomber formations could between them concentrate the fire-power of 
two hundred heavy machine-guns on attacking fighters.) 

After Hitler’s evening war conference Goring reported to Milch, ‘The 
Fiihrer is insisting, and he says he has to insist on this as spokesman of the Ger- 
man people, that whatever the cost these mass attacks by day have got to be 
stopped.’ He added: ‘After this daylight raid on Frankfurt I heard people say, 
“We all saw the enemy aircraft over Frankfurt, but not one German fighter was 
to be seen, far or wide.’” Milch tried to defend Galland’s squadrons, but Goring 
interrupted him: ‘A large number of the fighter pilots are pussy-foots!’ Milch 
persisted that Goring’s harsh criticism upset the pilots sorely. ‘They don’t need 
to get upset,’ snorted Goring. ‘They only need to close in to four hundred in- 
stead of a thousand yards; they only need to shoot down eighty instead of 
twenty bombers, just once. Then their blues will be gone, and I’ll doff my cap 
right respectfully to them.’ 33 

It annoyed Goring that the pilots were regarded as national heroes; he be- 
lieved they bore a large measure of the blame. ‘The German public doesn’t care 
two hoots about the fighter casualties,’ he reminded Galland. ‘Try going to 
Frankfurt and asking what impression your fighter losses that day left on them. 
They’ll tell you: “You can’t be serious! Look at our thousands of dead!”’ 34 He 
admitted the daylight battles were more costly because of the Thunderbolt es- 
cort, but no position was wholly impossible. ‘The most famous and important 
battles have been decided by attacks launched from the most hopeless positions,’ 
he reminded his generals. ‘In one legendary battle Alexander carried his troops 



to victory through crumbling river beds, slippery mudbanks and across heights 
dominated by the enemy; it was because the position was so bad that the enemy 
never believed his attack could succeed.’ It was not an encouraging argument. 

Two days after Frankfurt Goring undertook his first air journey for some years, 
as he returned from speaking to an assembly of gauleiters in Posen. As his air- 
craft droned in stately luxury across Central Europe toward southern Ger- 
many, his imagination came into play. For four hours he imagined himself 
trapped in an American bomber’s gun turret, as hundreds of Luftwaffe fighters 
attacked from every quarter without respite; after an hour his guns were use- 
less, their last ammunition gone. By the time Goring landed near the Ober- 
salzberg he believed he knew just how an American airman would feel if the 
fighter onslaught could be maintained for hours on end: ‘There’s no squadron 
that could stand it, even if they were lions at heart!’ 35 

Next day he inquired of Galland how long his fighters could keep firing. 
Galland replied, ‘Seven minutes!’ Goring calculated out loud that a fighter pilot 
could therefore land to rearm and refuel several times in one battle. ‘So if you 
really roll up your shirtsleeves, you can each engage the enemy three times or so 
during a four-hour battle?’ Galland agreed. Goring continued, ‘I herewith or- 
der: three times!’ Thus Hermann Goring must go down in history as the ar- 
chitect of a victory which Galland’s fighters shortly secured, when the Ameri- 
can squadrons returned to Schweinfurt on 14 October — a day the Americans 
now remember as Black Thursday. 





October 1943 

it was convenient to blame Udet for the technical backwardness of the Luft- 
waffe in the autumn of 1943. In one outburst on 9 October Goring said of him, 
‘If I could only find some explanation of what Udet really thought he was up 
to! He led our aviation into absolute chaos. If he were still alive today I would 
say to him, “You are the destroyer of the German air force!’” 1 Behind Milch’s 
back Goring readily added him to his list of culprits, and even tried to blame 
him for not having copied the Mosquito. (‘I told him I would quite shamelessly 
copy anything the enemy had built that was any good, without any hesitation. 
Let Churchill say what he liked!’ 2 ) Referring to the bomber production in 
Milch’s new Reich Defence Programme, Goring complained: ‘It drops lower 
and lower! During this October we get 410 bombers a month; and by next Oc- 
tober it will be 266! What on earth is the field marshal thinking of?’* 

Nobody defended the absent field marshal. ‘I want to see an end to this 
perpetual business of fraud,’ Goring seethed. ‘It’s even worse than in Udet’s 
time.’ And moments later he erupted again when Colonel Diesing, his technical 
officer, claimed that daylight bombing of Britain was difficult because German 
aircraft had no rear gun turrets. ‘I am bound to ask,’ retorted Goring ‘what 
these people have in their brainboxes. They knew about the enemy’s rear tur- 

* In fact Milch’s programme showed an increase of 169 bombers a month by October 1944. 3 



rets, but the thought of building our own never occurred to them. We really 
ought to send for Reidenbach this very evening and stand him in front of a 
firing squad.’* Something inside him snapped. Within seconds Goring had 
indeed ordered the arrest of Udet’s chief lieutenants Reidenbach, Ploch and 
Tschersich by the Gestapo. ‘With every day that passes I recognize their crimes 
more clearly. There will be a summary court martial, not a lengthy trial. If their 
failure is proven, they will be shot.’ Goring added: ‘The field marshal talks in 
every conference of “having people shot”! But when I say it, I mean it, and it 
will be ruthlessly carried out. I don’t just mouth threats — I mean them!’ 4 

Milch’s Reich Defence Programme was therefore unacceptable. Goring 
ordered Milch to reinforce the bomber arm quickly for a resumption of the 
campaign against Britain. 5 Overall bomber production, including the new 
Junkers types, was to be increased from the present 410 per month to six hun- 
dred and then nine hundred as soon as possible. The field marshal believed this 
change of emphasis was all wrong: ‘It is precisely in these coming months that 
we must avoid weakening the Reich Defence Programme,’ he warned Goring 
on the fourteenth. ‘Otherwise the enemy will smash all our bomber production 
anyway, and that’s an end to your Junkers 188 and 388 production.’ 6 He be- 
lieved they would find themselves falling back onto their original target figures 
eventually, and suggested instead that they develop ways of packing more ex- 
plosives into the Me 410 bomb-bay — for example by producing bombs cast of 
special explosives, dispensing with a bomb-casing altogether. ‘It is to be a pure 
terror-bomb!’ Milch explained. 7 

The second week of October 1943 brought crisis to the American squad- 
rons stationed in England. On the eighth, attacking Bremen and Vegesack, they 
lost thirty bombers, with major damage to over a score more; on the ninth they 
attacked Marienburg and Anklam in East Prussia, where ninety percent of the 
Focke-Wulf factories were devastated. Goring exclaimed, ‘We cannot continue 
like this!’ He asked Speer to start work on six bomb-proof concrete factories for 
fighter production. 8 For the first time that day Galland’s squadrons had oper- 

* The Heinkel 177 bomber had always had a rear gun turret. Colonel Diesing was to succeed 
Milch as ‘Chief of Technical Air Armament’ in June 1944. 



ated multiple sorties: every aircraft had been brought in, including some from 
France, and some had flown two or three sorties against the Americans. 
Twenty-eight of the 378 bombers had been destroyed, but it was still not good 
enough for Hitler or Goring. Galland, who illicitly joined in the battle himself, 
could see why: a few weak single- and twin-engined fighter units appeared, 
opening fire at too great a range, making generally irresolute attacks and then 
breaking away too early. He now agreed with Goring’s low opinion of fighter 
morale. 9 

On the tenth the Americans bombed the centre of Munster, in revenge 
for the casualties they had suffered. The Germans destroyed thirty of the 236 
bombers, a much higher percentage. In three days, therefore, eighty-eight 
American bombers and nearly nine hundred men had been lost. This was vivid 
justification of Milch’s emphasis on fighter defence. ‘The Americans certainly 
know their business in these daylight attacks,’ he conceded to Goring. ‘At 
Marienburg not one bomb hit the town — every one landed on the target 
area.’ 10 While he congratulated the Luftwaffe on its three great victories, he 
warned: ‘There is no place in Germany proof against air attack.’ 11 

Goring would dearly have loved to bomb America, and on 14 October he 
again examined with Messerschmitt the Me 264 project — a bomber capable, the 
professor said, of carrying several tons of bombs to the Midwest of America. ‘If 
only we could do that!’ sighed Goring. ‘If only we could chuck a few bombs at 
them, so that they had to have a blackout over there.’ 12 

This day, 14 October, was Black Thursday. Earlier, three thousand American 
airmen had been briefed for a renewed assault on Schweinfurt. Morale in the 
bomber squadrons was already at crisis point. The medical diary of one unit 
which had suffered heavily in the earlier attack noted, ‘The mental attitude and 
morale of the crews is the lowest that has yet been observed.’ When the briefing 
for the attack began, ‘The mention of the word “Schweinfurt” shocked the 
crews completely.’ No estimate was announced of the number of German 
fighters based along the route. The medical officer checked and found this 
omission was intentional: ‘The entire German fighter force of 1,100 fighter air- 
craft was based within eighty- five miles of the course. The implications were 



obvious. As I went round to the crews checking equipment, sandwiches, coffee, 
etc., the crews were scared and it was obvious that many doubted that they 
would return.’ 13 

As the three hundred American bombers crossed the German frontier 
and the Thunderbolts withdrew, the first German fighter squadrons closed in. 
An awesome air battle ensued. The German tactics were so expertly coordinated 
that the Americans suspected that the mission had been betrayed by an agent in 
Britain. Many fighters had now been equipped with improvised 21-centimetre 
rocket launchers: ‘If a squadron or even only a flight of aircraft closes in in tight 
formation and all their rocket launchers open fire,’ Milch had been promised a 
month before, ‘then something’s got to catch it!’ 14 As wave after wave of single- 
and twin-engined fighters attacked with rockets, 20-millimetre cannon and 
even bombs, the powerful formations of Flying Fortresses fell apart, crippled 
bombers slewed out of station and were mercilessly destroyed. It was the bloodi- 
est battle in the American air force’s history, with the entire German fighter 
force, day and night, hurled against the attackers. Galland later said his men 
had flown eight hundred sorties. 15 

The short-range fighters landed, refuelled and rejoined the battle, giving 
the enemy no respite as Goring had insisted. At 2.40 p.m. the remnants of the 
American First Air Division started its bomb run on Schweinfurt. Ten minutes 
later Goring was told of the beginning of the attack. He took the news calmly: 
the Americans had been defeated once before at Schweinfurt, and they had 
been prevented from inflicting severe damage because the local flak commander 
had switched on fog generators in good time. 16 Then he was stabbed by the 
sudden thought: ‘Would the man have switched them on this time?’ He re- 
laxed, confident that the generators had been switched on. But they had not, 
and this time the damage was severe.* By 2.57 p.m. the last American plane had 

* Goring later explained the delay to Milch: ‘The idiot decided to test the atmospheric humidity 
first! I can only say, every time I hear of enemy bombers approaching I tremble at the thought 
of the follies that can happen — at the damage that these God-forsaken idiots can do.’ With wry 
humour he added, ‘I am going to round up the most monumental idiots I can find, by circu- 
larizing every branch, and add them to my staff, so that by consultation with them I can get 
some expert idea of what this or that idiot in the field might get up to .’ 17 



unloaded its bombs. The ball-bearing factories had been heavily damaged. 

As the bombers turned for home, r6o fighter aircraft attacked simultane- 
ously from every angle, delivering the most concentrated onslaught yet. The 
running fight was kept up all the way to the Channel coast and beyond. By 
early evening the battle was over. South-western Germany was strewn with the 
wrecks of sixty Flying Fortresses; seventeen more had been irreparably dam- 
aged, and many of the others carried dead crew members as they struggled back 
to England. Goring telephoned Hitler to report his airmen’s finest hour. 18 But 
Hitler was dining with Speer; Speer telephoned — with some difficulty — the 
works foreman of one of the ball-bearing factories, and was able to report to 
Hitler, not without some relish one suspects, that the factories had in fact su- 
ffered grievous damage. 19 

The hindrance to arms production turned out to be less than Speer 
feared. He and Milch had already spent several weeks devising means of 
economizing on ball- and roller-bearings. They had discovered that the army 
alone had hoarded enough ball-bearings to make good the entire losses of the 
previous attack on Schweinfurt, and Milch suspected that the Luftwaffe must 
somewhere have the same kind of hoard. 20 Speer later wrote that not one tank, 
aircraft or other product less was manufactured because of the shortage of ball- 
bearings. 21 

Schweinfurt was not immediately recognized for the tactical victory that it was; 
fearing further attacks on this scale, Hitler ordered that the defence of the 
Reich was to take precedence over all other needs. 22 Speer noted the Fiihrer’s 
demands for more flak, more fighters and more 200-centimetre searchlight 
production. Hitler also demanded that fighter aircraft should be equipped with 
the latest armament, particularly the very heavy 50-millimetre KWK — an anti- 
tank gun normally mounted on armoured cars, with a 2r-shot magazine. 23 Gal- 
land was bitterly opposed to this, and it soon became a cause celebre similar to 
the 30-millimetre cannon and the use of the Me 262 as a bomber. 24 On the day 
before Schweinfurt, Speer and Milch had still been arguing over the increased 
fighter production programme, but now Milch’s planners confidently began 
studying a new programme — 225 — whereby, while increasing bomber pro- 



duction, they could also bring fighter production up to five thousand a 
month. 25 This study was short-lived as Speer’s ministry rejected it as totally 
impracticable, and Milch advised his planners, ‘The [supply] difficulties for 
programme 224 are already great enough, according to the minister.’ 26 

By night the Luftwaffe still had to contend with the RAF’s increasingly 
sophisticated electronic warfare and deception tactics. In the latter part of Oc- 
tober they dropped seventeen hundred tons of bombs on Hanover and eleven 
hundred tons on Leipzig. The basic problem of beating the metal-foil jamming 
had still not been solved. Goring conceded his admiration for the British elec- 
tronic devices: ‘In the field of radar they must have the world’s greatest genius,’ 
he said. ‘They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops . . . The British 
would never have dared use the metal foil here if they had not worked out a 
hundred percent what the antidote is.’ He added, ‘I hate the rogues like the 
plague, but in one respect I am obliged to doff my cap to them. After this war’s 
over I’m going to buy myself a British radio set, as a token of my regard for 
their high-frequency work. Then at last I’ll have the luxury of owning some- 
thing that has always worked.’ 27 

Paradoxically, Goring’s popularity with the public was still undeniable. In 
the last week of October he toured the fighter organization in the west, and 
wherever his Mercedes halted in the Ruhr and Rhineland cities he was mobbed 
and cheered by the populace. For the generals who accompanied him it was 
mystifying. In a private speech to them at fighter defence headquarters in Hol- 
land, Goring emotionally exclaimed: ‘I am human too, and I would have un- 
derstood if these people who stand among ruins — nothing but rubble to left 
and right! — and who have put up with over a hundred air raids, had taken the 
chance of a passing visit by one of the dignitaries who is actually responsible for 
this mess and had . . . well, not exactly chucked rotten eggs at me, but at least 
put on a sour face or hollered “You fat slob!” at me.’ He smiled wanly: ‘Nor 
would I have intervened if they had!’ 28 

This public acclaim strengthened Goring in his contempt for his officers. 
By the morning of 23 October, as hundreds of fighter pilots gathered in one of 
the hangars at Arnhem to hear him speak, huge fires were sweeping Kassel, dev- 
astated by eighteen hundred tons of RAF bombs during the night. Nearly six 



thousand civilians had died between dusk and dawn. Goring put it to the pilots 
that they were ‘pussy-foots, and some of you somewhat more’. He angrily re- 
minded them how, when he had withdrawn fighter squadrons to the defence of 
the Reich, they had assured him, ‘Just let those four-engined rattletraps try 
coming! What a party that will be — what a thrashing! Well, the party’s over 
and still they keep coming. Look at it this way: the German public has suffered 
indescribably from the enemy bombing terror, by day and night. At night-time 
the public can just about understand the problems of making contact with the 
bombers; but what it will never understand is what problem there is by day, 
particularly in clear weather. I am not going to single out one squadron, or one 
flight, as particularly bad. But of one thing you must rest assured: I will not 
have cowards in my force — I intend to winkle every one of them out!’ 29 

Milch did not believe it right to blame the fighter pilots. Schweinfurt and sev- 
eral of the RAF night battles had shown what these officers were capable of 
given proper equipment and adequate leadership. It was in the Luftwaffe’s 
higher command that he saw the responsibility for the long-term planning er- 
rors which had reduced the Luftwaffe to its present defensive stance. He 
showed the new programme study for 225, the five-thousand-fighter-per- 
month programme, to Goring next day and urged him to secure support from 
Hitler; above all the industry must be protected from the drastic recruitment 
planned by Hitler for the next three months — no fewer than sixty thousand to 
be culled from the 435,000 ‘reserved’ German workers alleged by Speer to be 
employed in the air industry. 30 Milch was convinced Speer’s staff had faked this 
figure — he believed that the correct figure was nearer 250, 000. 31 But in the 
struggle for labour the Luftwaffe consistently lost, as Speer could use his local 
armaments inspectorates to transfer workers from a purely air force factory to 
one manufacturing army equipment. 32 

Goring next saw Hitler on 27 October, but totally failed to persuade him 
to halt the recruiting. Hitler would not believe the air industry had fewer than 
five million workers (the real figure was 1,920, 000). 33 The other services’ C-in- 
Cs present evidently related moving stories of their own plights. The rest of the 
discussion dissolved into an exchange of humorous anecdotes about manpower 



wastage in the services. Milch learned this from Goring next day, and wrote in 
his diary: ‘Big conference at Karinhall. Terrible row. [Goring has] bad con- 
science as he got nowhere with the Fiihrer.’* On the twenty-ninth he informed 
his ministry heads, ‘A clear decision has now been reached. The recruitment 
goes on.’ 35 Sauckel had promised to procure three million Italian prisoners for 
German industry, but these proved unreliable: they volunteered for military 
service, were therefore transported back to Italy, and then melted away into the 
mountains. The workers who remained were given kid-glove treatment until 
Milch found out. He told Goring, ‘I have ordered that they are to be beaten if 
they do not work.’ 36 

Of one thing Hitler had persuaded Goring in particular: that whether or not 
the German lines in Russia were pushed back a few hundred miles was immate- 
rial compared with whether, by the spring of 1944, Germany would be suffi- 
ciently invulnerable in the west to prevent the establishment of an Allied second 
front. ‘This is where the air force is of decisive importance,’ Hitler had empha- 
sized. 37 If once an enemy army set foot on French soil, it would spell the end for 
Germany. This was an infinitely greater danger than any attack on their cities. 

In vain Field Marshal Milch reminded Goring that it was not the cities as 
such but the armaments industries they had to defend — the very basis of their 
military strength. ‘I am thinking, in this context, of the real life-or-death ques- 
tion, apart from the eastern front — namely whether next spring the home 
front will be adequately protected when the American long-range escort fighter 

Goring impatiently replied, ‘Even if every German city is razed to the 
ground, the German people will still survive! ... I am not against the defence of 
the Reich — it was I who buttressed the Luftwaffe on the home front, it was I 
who recalled the front-line squadrons to the Reich against the bitterest opposi- 
tion.’ He repeated that there were two real dangers for Germany. The first was 

* The record of the conference shows Goring berating Milch: ‘All of a sudden I can’t trust any- 
body. I have had my fingers burnt too often! You must not try to intoxicate me with figures the 
way you tried before .’ 34 

2 79 


when one fine day they heard, ‘The Russians (Army Group So-and-So) have 
entered Silesia, with another army group in East Prussia; one of them is massing 
on the river Vistula, the other is coming up the river Oder.’ And, ‘Then there is 
danger Number Two. And that is Britain.’ This was why he felt justified in re- 
garding bombers as an essential arm of the Reich’s defence. ‘I have to start at- 
tacking them over there,’ exclaimed Goring. ‘For one whole year the British 
public suffered air warfare just like us now. But for two years now they have 
had no air raids.’ He continued, ‘The moment the British try and invade 
France to establish a second front, I will not leave a single fighter aircraft to the 
defence of the Reich; that same day every single aircraft which is airworthy will 
be sent forward, and the Reich itself will not have an aircraft to its name — come 
hell or high water.’ 

‘If the British once get a foothold on our coast,’ he summarized, ‘that 
would be fatal. For them to bomb German cities for two or three days would be 
unpleasant — but not fatal .’ 38 





October-December 1943 

nobody now doubted that the Messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft was vital for re- 
asserting Germany’s air superiority, but there soon arose controversy over how 
it should be employed. The fighter squadrons’ commander Galland repeatedly 
asserted, ‘It will give us such a lead that even a few would make an enormous 
difference to us.’ 1 But Hitler, who had still not seen it, envisaged it as a fighter- 
bomber, and he hoped it would play a decisive role in defeating the Allied inva- 
sion in the coming spring. 

In October 1943 he defined to Goring the critical phase of the coming in- 
vasion as the first hours of confusion on the landing beaches, when the area 
would be choked with tanks, guns and troops. In those hours the fast Me 262s 
should make their sensational first appearance — as high-speed bombers. 2 They 
need not carry much — ‘Even if they carry only a couple of 150-pounders I 
should be pleased enough’, Hitler explained — and they would not need to aim 
precisely; they would merely streak along the landing beaches at low level, 
hurling bombs into the midst of the disembarking troops and equipment. Even 
a few hours’ delay forced upon the enemy could be vital, for it would give Hit- 
ler time to move up his reserves. Goring agreed, but thought to himself, ‘I don’t 
know if we’ll have the Me 262 by then!’ Accordingly, he said out loud that they 
would also try to do this with their existing fighter-bombers. 3 He undertook to 
discuss the bomber version with Milch and Messerschmitt. 



The first one hundred of the pilot series were currently due for comple- 
tion by May 1944, and mass production would begin at Regensburg and 
Augsburg in November 1944. But Professor Messerschmitt maintained his de- 
mands for more skilled labour, more draughtsmen and more jigmakers, and by 
mid-October 1943 Goring very properly entertained doubts about whether the 
jet aircraft would ever enter squadron service: ‘I would not like the Me 262 to 
enter service half a year too late,’ he told Milch. 4 It was a prophetic utterance. 

The Air Ministry had done its best to satisfy Messerschmitt’s demands, 
even to the extent of winding up rival companies and giving him their labour 
force. 5 Messerschmitt still asked for more. At Neuburg airfield he tackled 
Goring in person and demanded four thousand new workers: ‘I ought to warn 
you that the Me 262 is going to be three months late as it is; and if you don’t 
give me the workers, half a year!’ 6 When Goring repeated this to Hitler, the 
latter ‘almost had a fit’, as he told Milch. Hitler decreed that the workers would 
again have to be found from some other aircraft company. 

Milch disapproved very strongly of the professor’s tactics: ‘He did not 
report anything to us about any delay,’ he complained to Goring. He suggested 
that the delays were actually caused by the company’s having concentrated too 
much effort on the piston-engined Me 209. When Goring tamely defended the 
professor, Milch angrily interrupted him, ‘Herr Reichsmarschall, who needs 
him? We have far better designers than Messerschmitt in the fields in which he 
works.’ 7 

It must be said that at this stage nobody criticized the Fiihrer’s inclination 
to regard the Me 262 as a potential fighter-bomber — Messerschmitt least of all, 
when Milch and Goring travelled down to see him a few days later. 8 Before they 
toured the sprawling factory buildings and hangars, the Reichsmarschall men- 
tioned Hitler’s requirement. Messerschmitt exclaimed, ‘Herr Reichsmarschall, 
from the very outset we have provided for the fitting of two bomb pylons so 
that it can drop bombs — either one 500-kilo or two 250s!’ And he volunteered, 
‘But it could also carry a 1,000-kilo bomb, or two 500s.’ Asked by Goring how 
long this modification would take, the professor responded: ‘That is relatively 



easily done — say, fourteen days.’* 9 

Before they left Goring and Milch were shown the newly completed sixth 
prototype in flight — the first to have a retractable nose-wheel and a Me 163 
rocket-propelled interceptor, a suitable chariot for a suicide squadron if ever 
there was one. 

Two days later they visited the Junkers works, where the jet engines were 
under manufacture. 10 This important production line was soon to be evacuated 
to an army barracks at Zittau, and mass production was to begin in January. 
Goring urged them to find underground tunnel space if possible, and to pro- 
vide realistic fire-fighting equipment meantime for the surface factories. ‘Expe- 
rience shows that however great the devastation of a factory by high -explosive 
bombs, the damage can always be repaired, even if the entire crop falls on every 
single machine tool; but where once the fires have ravaged, nothing can ever be 
made good.’f Before they left Dessau they were also shown the prototypes of 
the latest Junkers bomber designs — the Ju 388 (essentially a Ju 188 powered by 
two BMW 801 double-row radial engines) 12 and a heavy jet bomber, the Ju 287, 
powered by six Junto 004 engines; with its forward-swept wings, this bomber 
was designed to approach the speed of sound. Its prototype made its first test- 
flight eight months later. 

Finally, Goring and Milch toured the Arado works, now in the midst of 
evacuation to Landshut. 13 The new site would start jet bomber production in 
September 1944, with twenty-six thousand workers. The first hundred Ar 234s 
would be manufactured by the end of 1944. Five had already been assembled, 
with a top speed of five hundred miles per hour and a range of a thousand 
miles; but the project had been set back by the crash of the first Ar 234 some 
weeks before, killing their best test pilot; and the present dispersal would cost 
them another two months. 14 Milch insisted that the original production pro- 
gramme should not only be maintained but increased, and the company duly 

* A shorthand record was taken of their discussion, on Goring’s insistence, 
t Speer said much the same a few days later: ‘If today we only had to deal with blast effects, 
things would not be half so bad.’ And Dr Werner, speaking of the Schweinfurt raid, added: 
‘Where there’s fire, it’s all over: the spindles burn out and you might just as well throw the 
machines on the junk heap .’ 11 



undertook to manufacture two hundred by the end of 1944 and a thousand by 
mid-r945, given the necessary materials and manpower. 15 

We can well imagine with what optimism Goring concluded his tour of the jet- 
engine and aircraft factories. Yet a few days of well-aimed saturation bombing 
could destroy all this. He anxiously initiated a major campaign to ‘get my entire 
outfit underground’, as he put it. While Air Ministry officials scoured the 
countryside for suitable empty caves and tunnels, Goring addressed the gauleit- 
ers on 8 November, appealing to them to cooperate and outlining his plans for 
the future: ‘Britain has already suffered air warfare once, in the most violent 
manner,’ he recalled. ‘Like a true Germanic country, she clenched her teeth 
and took it on the chin.’ But for many months she had been left alone, while for 
the German public raids had become a common occurrence. All the greater 
would be the anguish for the British when his reprisal raids began, before the 
end of r943. London would not be the only target: ‘ft is always better to wipe 
out a town of a hundred thousand citizens completely, than to make a dent in a 
giant city!’ He spoke of the six tons of bombs the He 177 could carry, and of the 
Trialen explosive in them, twice as powerful as the British explosives. 16 

The cloud on his horizon was the Me 262. By late autumn it had fallen 
several months behind schedule just as he had feared. In January r944 Messer- 
schmitt was to write a lengthy memorandum denying responsibility for this and 
blaming the Air Ministry 17 ; this was less than fair. As recently as June r943 he 
had campaigned against replacing the Me 209 with the Me 262; the 209 was, he 
then claimed, ninety-five percent ready for production. 18 Despite Milch’s em- 
bargo, he continued to invest skilled labour and draughtsmen in the ‘dead’ 209 
at the expense of the jet aircraft against the outspoken objections of his own 
colleagues.* 19 Milch recalled how many aircraft had gone sour in the past — the 
Me rro, the Me 2ro, the Me 264 and the Me 309; and even the Me 4m had not 
owed much to Messerschmitt. But then again, where would the Luftwaffe have 

* Fritz Seiler chided Messerschmitt in a letter in July 1943: ‘Milch . . . was also able to refer to the 
fact that you, the entire board and I were emphatic during one of the big conferences on the 262 
that the 262 can only enter service rapidly if we concentrate on that aircraft.’ 20 



been in 1939 without the Me 109 fighter? ‘It is unfortunately very hard to tell in 
advance with him whether he has another hit or another miss,’ he sighed. 21 The 
upshot had been that late in September Milch cautiously asked his staff ‘while 
avoiding any misunderstanding, to look at the question whether we really need 
the 209 in view of its performance and delivery dates’. 22 

The expert opinion, especially of Galland, was unanimous: they did not 
need the Me 209. It had still not even flown by the end of October, although it 
was due to enter mass production in June 1944. Now Messerschmitt was de- 
manding a thousand more draughtsmen, and even then could not guarantee to 
deliver the fighter before early 1946. 23 Goring’s technical officer stated, ‘The 
only person who will fight against cancellation of the 209 is Messerschmitt. But 
all his colleagues realize they are only obstructing themselves with it, and that 
they will never get a breathing space for sensible projects if they go on like 
that.’ 24 It was calamitous that the Me 209, sheltered by the injured pride of one 
brilliant aircraft designer with the ear of Hitler, should have blocked the path of 
the jet fighter for so long. In mid-November the professor tactlessly complained 
to the Fuhrer’s special representative about the ‘superfluous’ aircraft under 
development, which were wasting manpower. This was the last straw for Milch: 
‘If Messerschmitt complains he has too many different types,’ he snarled, ‘I can 
only say, we have tried to take one after the other away from him.’ He ordered 
all work on the Me 209 piston-engined fighter to cease, and secured Goring’s 
approval for this a few days later. 25 

Albert Speer refused to accept responsibility for the new aircraft programme 
planned by Milch, designated 225. At that time, the prevailing programme was 
223, with a target of 3,700 single- and 1,194 twin-engined fighters a month in 
1945, plus 720 bombers; the post-Hamburg Reich Defence Programme, 224, 
issued in the second week of October, had raised these targets to 4,160 single- 
and 1,256 twin-engined fighters, plus 820 bombers by 1945. 26 Goring had or- 
dered him to place greater emphasis still on bombers, and the resulting ‘re- 
venge’ programme, 225, aimed at 4,585 single- and 1,264 twin-engined fighters 
and 930 bombers (Goring had called for 900) by 1945. Fighter production 
would be marginally lower during 1944, but not because of the increase in 



bombers so much as because of a shortage of suitable engines. (‘Whatever I am 
ordered,’ said Milch, ‘I would not dream of cutting back on fighters.’) 

Speer would not even consider the new programme: ‘It’s pointless,’ he 
objected. ‘These are utopian figures!’ He added, ‘I refuse to discuss anything 
over and above programme 224. If the Luftwaffe wants to go ahead and adopt 
programme 225, nobody will stop it; but I must state officially here and now that 
the necessary supplies will not be forthcoming.’ 27 

Milch patiently asked his office to prepare a new study, 28 the first of 
many, in an attempt to reconcile the two positions. His friendship with Speer 
was saved in this month of strain by an unexpected drought: by mid-November 
it was recognized that the drought would be so severe that during r944 there 
would be less aluminium available than ever before. This new limiting factor was 
disclosed by Speer to Milch in mid-November and Milch had no option but to 
accept it. 29 

The drought was the worst for ninety years in Germany. The loss of hy- 
dro-electric power would cause considerable production losses of nitrogen, 
high-grade steels, synthetic fuels and aluminium. Moreover, the Danube was so 
low that oil barges from Rumania could carry only 300 instead of 700 tons each; 
in November the amount transported would be 80,000 tons compared with 
r44,ooo tons in October, and there were 323,000 tons waiting in Rumania to be 
shipped to Germany. 30 Of Reich aluminium production, estimated at 40,000 
tons a month for the next few months, the Luftwaffe would now be allocated 
22,000 tons a month. This appeared to rule out programme 225 altogether. 31 

On the night of r8 November Sir Arthur Harris, C-in-C of Bomber Command, 
began his attempt to ‘wreck Berlin from end to end’. He followed this raid with 
an even heavier attack on the night of the twenty-second. Munitions and Air 
Ministries both suffered; soon Speer’s building was blazing fiercely, and the 
neighbouring Army Armaments Office also caught fire. The night’s casualties 
were 3,500 dead and 400,000 homeless. On the following night the British 
bombers again attacked Berlin in force. 32 

At the same time, the recruiting of fresh soldiers from Milch’s factories 
was increased. Milch watched these developments with consternation. At the 



end of October he had again reminded Goring that the army had eight million 
men in uniform: ‘But how many of those are really at the front, as combat 
troops? Certainly far fewer than twenty-five or thirty percent.’ 33 On 8 Novem- 
ber Hitler finally agreed that there was an imbalance between front-line and 
rear areas, and he ordered the High Command to investigate; he invited Admi- 
ral Donitz and the Reichsmarschall to headquarters on the twenty-fourth to 
discuss ways of increasing the combat strength. 34 Goring asked Milch to brief 
him. 35 Milch again claimed that of 8.3 million soldiers, fewer than two million 
were actually at the front: ‘On the eastern front,’ he claimed, ‘there are only 
260,000 soldiers.’ Given the chance he believed he could round up two million 
soldiers and add them to the front line, without any need to raid the arma- 
ments factories at home. 36 

In the event, precisely the opposite happened. So weak was Goring’s posi- 
tion — particularly now that Berlin was suffering again — that he not only failed 
to repeat Milch’s statistics to Hitler, but declared he was convinced a large 
number of front-line soldiers could be obtained from the Luftwaffe’s rear ar- 
eas. 37 This was the Luftwaffe’s fate: its commander-in-chief was reluctant to 
state its requirements to the Fuhrer with the necessary forcefulness, while 
Milch, who shared none of Goring’s inhibitions, was steadfastly prevented by 
Goring from confronting Hitler directly. 

Milch — like Speer — had always cultivated good relations with Heinrich 
Himmler, chief of the SS. They had always exchanged birthday greetings, and 
once Milch had said, ‘I prefer working with him than with other military 
authorities.’ 38 It was probably just the admiration of one organization man for 
another: both had created from nothing a politically conscious fighting elite. 39 

When the agitation among the legions of foreign workers in his factories 
threatened production, Milch was able to refer to his association with Himmler: 

I spoke to Himmler recently about this, and told him his main task 
must be to see to the protection of German industry if unrest breaks 
out among this foreign scum. If, for instance, there is a mutiny at X, 
an officer with a couple of men, or a lieutenant with thirty troops, 



must appear in the factory and let fly with their machine-guns into 
the mob. The object is to lay out as many people as possible, if muti- 
nies break out. This is the order I have issued, even if the people are 
our own foreign workers . . . Then every tenth man is to be picked 
out, and every tenth man will be shot in front of the rest. 

He generally favoured giving Heinrich Himmler close control over their 
vital armaments factories, as was the SS chief s desire. ‘Why should we stand in 
his way?’ Milch asked his staff. ‘Speer is letting him in too.’ 40 (Needless to say, 
none of Milch’s draconic proposals was ever carried out.) 

On 20 November, after they had both attended the Fuhrer’s speech to 
four thousand officer cadets at the Century Hall in Breslau, Milch invited 
Himmler to his nearby estate, Althofdiirr. Like Hitler, the SS chief possessed 
the most punctilious manners and charm, and he conversed at length with 
Milch’s mother, who had lived here since the destruction of their fine home in 
Konigsallee in a recent Berlin air raid. Milch poured out his heart to Himmler 
about the difficulties with Goring, and the urgency of support for the Reich’s 
defence. 41 Himmler promised support. 

For purposes which we can readily surmise, Goring had ordered Milch to pre- 
pare at short notice a display of the most modern aircraft and weapons for Hit- 
ler at Insterburg airfield. The display was to include both jet aircraft projects, 
the flying bomb and the two guided anti-shipping missiles Hs 293 and Fritz-X, 
and film of the new panoramic radar sets and the ‘Korfu’ receiver stations 
tracking the RAF bombers by their radar emissions during a night attack on 
Berlin a few days before. 42 Hitler agreed to come with his staff on 26 November; 
Himmler also attended. 

Goring deliberately snubbed Milch at the display and introduced his own 
technical officers to Hitler as those to whom credit was due. 43 Milch was 
speechless with anger. More was to come: the Reichsmarschall took the printed 
programme out of Milch’s hands and began introducing each aircraft to Hitler, 
working his finger down the list. He was unaware that one of the fighter pro- 
totypes had had a mishap at Rechlin and there was thus one aircraft missing; 



the remaining aircraft had each been moved along one place in the line. Milch 
saw what was going to happen and took his revenge: he stepped tactfully back 
into the second row. Where the missing fighter should have been, there was 
now a medium bomber. Goring announced it to Hitler as the single-seater. For 
several more exhibits this farce continued until the Ffihrer decided that enough 
was enough, and pointed out Goring’s error. 

The next mishap occurred as they inspected the Me 262 jet fighter. The 
Fuhrer repeated his inquiry: could it carry bombs? Before the others could stop 
him, Messerschmitt stepped forward and said that it could carry one 1,000-kilo 
or two 500-kilo bombs without trouble. Hitler thanked him: ‘This at last is the 
aircraft I have been demanding for years! Here it is — but nobody recognized 
it!’ Colonel Petersen later commented, ‘Thus the bacillus was planted.’ Even 
now nobody protested, least of all Goring, who had only a few months before 
scorned Milch’s interim efforts to fill the high-speed bomber gap: ‘With the 
high-speed bomber you gentlemen took the easy way out. You slung a bomb 
under the fastest fighter, and there’s your high-speed bomber! But a fighter is 
no bomber.’ 44 Long of tongue and short of memory, the Reichsmarschall now 
approved a modification of the jet fighter project which, in time, was to set it 
back by many months. 

Partly for security reasons (the need to avoid compromising the jet en- 
gine in a crash over enemy territory) and partly because of his desire to pro- 
mote the fighter version, Milch had always urged caution on jet bomber devel- 
opment. In May Major Herrmann had asked for the Me 262 as a bomber, too, 
but Milch had answered evasively: ‘First we will build it as a fighter, and then 
look for something answering your purpose.’ 45 Colonel Peltz had echoed 
Herrmann: ‘The jet bomber would be so superior, if it came today, that the 
enemy would never bring it down.’ In July he asked for a hundred of the Ar 
234 jet bombers as soon as possible and regretted that the reconnaissance version 
was planned for release first, as one crash in Britain would compromise its se- 
crets. 46 Milch knew that a host of technical problems — special bomb-sights, 
strengthened landing gear and improved visibility — would have to be solved 
first and might take years of work. When Colonel Diesing advised him that 
even Hitler now envisaged jet engines more as a power plant for bombers, Milch 



sharply disagreed. 47 A few days later, however, Goring also described the jet 
bomber as ‘a point of extreme urgency’ for their research and development. He 
was thinking of both a small bomber and one with a two-ton bomb-load, and he 
told Milch: ‘A positive effort is to be made on the development of a jet 
bomber.’ 48 At the time of Insterburg one thing was certain: the Me 262 was not 
capable of carrying any bombs, however small. 

Another fiasco occurred at Insterburg when Hitler stepped in front of the 
static flying-bomb exhibit. He asked the group leader of the Luftwaffe research 
unit at Peenemunde when the weapon would be ready. This man, thinking 
only of the development progress, replied, ‘The end of March 1944.’ (Even 
then some weeks would be necessary before the weapon could go into opera- 
tion.) But March was bad enough, and General Bodenschatz hissed to Petersen, 
‘Who was the pessimist who arranged this display?’ 49 

After it was over, Goring suggested they watch each aircraft fly past from 
the roof of the control tower. Hitler agreed, but invited only Milch and his ad- 
jutant to accompany him, as he wanted an ‘expert commentary’ on each plane. 
Goring stayed below. The Me 262, which swept past several times, made the 
greatest impression on him. Then he returned to headquarters, having 
demonstratively congratulated Milch on the exhibits. Milch hurried to his air- 
craft and took off for Berlin. As they curved back over the airfield, he saw that 
the Reichsmarschall had returned from the station; he ordered his pilot to fly 
toward Goring’s group at zero feet, and secured some satisfaction from their 

The flying-bomb project had indeed fallen about two months behind schedule. 
In October Hitler had asked when the three secret ‘reprisal weapons’ — the A4 
rocket, the flying-bomb and a huge underground gun battery with multiple 
barrels four hundred feet long aimed at London — would open fire. 50 The 
army were saying their A4 rocket would be ready by the end of the year. The 
Luftwaffe were striving to achieve the same date with their flying-bomb, but 
General Jodi disputed this: ‘You will trail a long way behind.’ ‘That may well be 
so,’ Milch admitted; the rocket project had been under way for thirteen years 
already, compared with the flying-bomb’s fifteen months. 



Milch’s fears were not without substance. By mid-December the ninety- 
six catapult launching sites for the weapon had been completed in France, along 
the whole coastline facing England; and in March the first two of the planned 
bombproof bunkers for launching the flying-bomb would also be complete; 
throughout the country caves and tunnels were being extended and reinforced 
to house the dumps for rockets and flying-bombs. 51 But the mass production of 
the bomb was now running about two months behind schedule, the weapon 
having encountered a series of difficulties during trials. The compass and dive 
mechanism were faulty, the auto-pilot was imperfect and some of the bombs 
broke up in mid-air because of faulty spot-welding. In September ninety bombs 
should have been test-launched, but only fourteen had been tried out, with 
only thirty-five more in October. The RAF attack on Peenemiinde had set them 
back about three weeks, and the mass attack on Kassel on 22 October had forced 
the evacuation of the Fieseler works manufacturing the pilot series to another 
site, where there was no compressed air, no electricity, and no telephones or 
transport. The full-scale mass-production was scheduled to begin at the Volks- 
wagen works at the end of October, but to reach the target of five thousand a 
month the works needed 250 more workers and seven hundred more machine 
tools. 52 

When November came it was estimated that up to 150 more flying-bombs 
still had to be tested, but that this could be completed by early February 1944. 53 
Long before then, however, further faults disrupted the flying-bomb pro- 
gramme. Meantime Himmler, impressed by what he had seen, afforded the 
flying-bomb project one whole tunnel in ‘Central Works’, a vast underground 
complex being adapted by the SS and tens of thousands of concentration camp 
prisoners near Nordhausen. Here the weapon would eventually have a bomb- 
proof production line independent of Volkswagen. 

On the day after Insterburg, Goring promised Hitler that the Luftwaffe would 
execute a heavy bombing attack on London in revenge for the continued raids 
on Berlin. 54 To his generals he disclosed that the Fiihrer had made it a point of 
honour to carry out this operation within two weeks, but he would consider 
waiting a further ten days should the full moon promise better results. 55 He 



ordered Peltz to scrape together as many Ju 188s, Ju 88s, Me 410s and He 177s as 
possible over the next few days. Peltz told him, ‘Anything that can carry bombs 
is good enough for me.’ 

Ideally, the He 177 could carry two 2,500-kilo bombs, of which one hun- 
dred had already been stockpiled with a so-called ‘England mixture’ of Trialen 
and Hexogen explosives. Goring planned to marshal at least three hundred for 
the first strike, denuding the Italian front if necessary to provide them; these 
would be followed by a hundred aircraft in a second wave and 150 more the 
next night. The attack, delayed by many circumstances, took place eventually 
on 22 January, by which time Peltz had assembled 524 bombers (including some 
He 177s) and fighter-bombers, of which 462 were serviceable. They attacked 
London in two waves six hours apart, but had some difficulty in finding the 
capital, for only thirty tons of bombs fell within its boundaries. 56 The wretched 
He 177 suffered particularly heavy losses. ‘They can’t even get that far,’ la- 
mented Hitler afterward. ‘This rattletrap is obviously the worst junk ever to 
have been manufactured. It is the flying Panther’ — a reference to one of Ger- 
many’s less fortunate tank designs — ‘and the Panther is the crawling 
Heinkel!’ 57 

The RAF’s assault on Berlin was by this time drawing to its climax. Tens of 
thousands of tons of high explosives and fire bombs were falling on the capital 
every week, spreading rumours, fear and panic throughout Germany. The 
RAF’s Bomber Command was shrugging off the normally crippling losses 
inflicted by the night-fighters as though of no consequence. Yet the German air 
industry was by no means declining: it had manufactured 15,700 aircraft in 
1942, and 25,871 in 1943, with a further 18,600 reissued after repairs; the 1944 
target was 51,800 aircraft. 58 Milch regretted time and again that this upsurge 
had not come a year earlier. Even now, there were still those who sought to cut 
back aircraft production to allow more steel for truck production, more alu- 
minium for A4 rockets, or more manpower for the thousands of frivolous oc- 
cupations still tolerated in this desperate war situation: at Baden-Baden the ca- 
sino was still open and fully staffed, while the Me 262 jet-fighter programme was 
fighting for any kind of labour. The Speer ministry could not be induced to 
take any interest in either the Me 262 or the flying-bomb. It was said that 



Speer’s deputy, Saur, would cooperate only if he were given complete control 
over the projects: ‘If he is permitted to manufacture the Fi 103 and the Me 262, 
he will support them to the hilt; but so long as we are responsible and he is only 
the supplier, he won’t help.’ 59 

Milch was forced to admire the excellence of the RAF’s night navigation, 
compared with the Luftwaffe’s. The enemy could unerringly find his way to 
Berlin across hundreds of miles of darkened Europe. ‘In Britain seamanship was 
always their strong point,’ he reflected. ‘It’s a question of getting fixes and 
dead-reckoning the whole time. It’s in their blood. Our aviation emanates, as 
you know, from the army side . . . The army has no need to navigate. They read 
the signposts at the crossroads, and that tells them where to go.’ 60 The British 
moreover could jam every electronic aid used by the Germans, while the Ger- 
mans did not even know the British wavelengths, as the Air Staff still refused to 
make aircraft available for radio-reconnaissance missions over the British Isles. 61 
Neither the ‘Berlin’ radar set nor the one hundred ‘Panorama’ ground radar 
sets needed for the future fighter-control organization could be ready until late 
1944. Meanwhile ‘Wasserfall’, the Luftwaffe’s radio-controlled, liquid-fuelled 
surface-to-air missile, was being blocked by the highly similar A4 rocket. 62 Milch 
was advised that the A4 was swallowing up so much of the Speer ministry’s ca- 
pacities that they were having to ‘mark time’ on every other similar project: 
‘The importance of [anti-aircraft] rocket research does not seem to have sunk 
in to them.’ 63 

Yet the picture was not entirely black for the Luftwaffe. The Air Ministry 
had found a partial solution to the Mosquito problem, by fitting Ju 88R night- 
fighters with the secret ‘GMT kit, a system for injecting nitrous-oxide gas into 
the engine, giving it superior high-altitude performance. 64 The RAF bombers 
were now suffering severe losses at the hands of the night-fighters, and on 20 
December massive RAF attacks began on the ‘secret weapon’ sites in France, just 
as Milch had expected. The Do 335 tandem-engined prototype had made its 
first flights, reaching four hundred miles an hour at ground level, and nearer 
five hundred at its proper altitude. Milch saw it as the piston-engined high- 
speed bomber and day-fighter of the future. 65 Only the Speer ministry’s stub- 
bornness stood in his way still, and his bitterness increased with every air raid 



and with every joint meeting. When Saur announced in January 1944 that the 
Armaments Ministry was going to accord equal top priority to still further 
army equipment (an assault gun programme) Milch angrily rebuked him: 
‘What’s the use! If we cannot make aircraft, it is useless to manufacture such 
equipment ... If we had been a year earlier with our present programme, eve- 
rything that has happened in Germany in 1943 would never have happened.’ 66 




‘Air force armament has just not been given the 
proper treatment and support — that’s why things 
look 50 black today. If we carry on like this we shall 
be forced to our knees before the coming year is out. 
I am convinced of it. Why beat about the bush?’ 

Milch, early in January 1944 




January-April 1944 

on 4 January 1944 Field Marshal Milch attended Hitler’s war conference for 
the first time in many months. 1 He had been summoned to headquarters with 
Speer and Sauckel to debate with the military the necessary means of raising 
more than four million new workers for the coming year. 2 

This was the first problem of 1944. The second was the threatening Allied 
invasion. That evening, Milch and Speer dined alone with Hitler until the early 
hours of the morning, and listened to the Fiihrer’s plans for defeating the Al- 
lies. Hitler reminded them of the importance he attached to the new submarine 
(the Type xxi) and to the jet aircraft, the Me 262 and the Ar 234. Milch in turn 
reported to his ministry, ‘The Fiihrer says, “If I can get these in time I can 
thwart the invasion.” This is the thought which inwardly pre-occupies him the 
most. He has told this to the Reichsmarschall too.’ 3 Within two days the British 
government had officially released details of its own jet aircraft development, 
and Milch was urgently recalled by Hitler to discuss this new threat, and the 
need for the Luftwaffe to develop counter-measures. 4 

The Me 262 as a fighter-bomber figured prominently in Hitler’s anti- 
invasion planning. Milch did not explicitly discourage this opinion. Early in 
November he had cabled Goring that it had been foreseen all along that the Me 
262 should be capable of bombing. 5 On 3 December he reminded his engineers 
that at Insterburg Hitler had particularly emphasized this, and had also ex- 



pressed an urgent interest in seeing the Me 410 fighter armed with the unor- 
thodox 50-millimetre cannon 6 ; two days later Hitler had again stressed the 
strategic importance of having jet fighter-bombers ‘in action in large numbers 
by the spring’. 7 Although Milch knew that only the tenth prototype, V-10, was 
being equipped experimentally with two bomb pylons for 250-kilo bombs, and 
that this was not due for completion until early May 1944 itself, neither he nor 
Goring dispelled the impression Hitler had evidently gained. Indeed late in 
December, after a visit from Goring, Hitler explained to his commanders, 

Every month that passes makes it more and more probable that we 
will get at least one squadron of jet aircraft: the most important 
thing is that they [the enemy] get some bombs on top of them just 
as they try to invade. That will force them to take cover. And even if 
there is only one such aircraft in the air they will still have to take 
cover, and in this way they will waste hour after hour! But after half 
a day our reserves will already be on their way. So if we can pin 
them down on the beaches for just six or eight hours, you can see 
what that will mean for us. 8 

But Milch took no discernible action to promote the Me 262 as a fighter- 
bomber, as he was anxious not to delay its debut as a fighter. 

He regarded the flying-bomb Fi 103 as one of the most important projects of 
the coming year. But severe manufacturing problems had beset it. He had 
authorized mass production before the trials were concluded — the same gam- 
ble as had been taken by Udet with the Ju 88 and the Me 210 — and the gamble 
had not come off. 9 Cheap production methods had resulted in a run of failures; 
at the end of November 1943 the Volkswagen mass production series was halted 
for the time being, and the two thousand bombs already partly finished were 
scrapped as their structures were too weak. Eventually the ministry resolved 
that the works should proceed with the manufacture of one hundred entirely 
new flying-bombs with the most up-to-date modifications incorporated; a final 
decision would be reached on the basis of their performance, but they would 



not be delivered until mid-February. 

In the meantime Flak Regiment 155 (W) had been activated to man the 
catapult sites and supply lines, and its five thousand officers and men were 
transferred to France during December. 10 The C-in-C of the flak artillery was 
quick to publicize this newly acquired weapon, although he was regrettably un- 
aware of the technical delays. As a result of his report the Fiihrer decided that 
the flying-bomb campaign against London should begin on 15 February. 11 Early 
in January 1944 the Fiihrer’s headquarters was told that the Volkswagen works 
would manufacture fourteen hundred flying-bombs in January, two thousand 
in February and increase to eight thousand a month by September — figures 
devoid of any accuracy. Milch knew that nothing like fourteen hundred bombs 
would be manufactured during January, and on his return to Berlin on the 
fifth he announced: ‘I forbid anybody else to make reports to the High Com- 
mand ... I am strongly opposed to those gentlemen meddling in our affairs.’ 12 
When Field Marshal Keitel cabled him expressing disappointment, Milch un- 
blushingly told his staff: ‘I have now received an idiotic telegram from Keitel 
and I have sent back an equally idiotic reply. I have asked him, “Why do you 
question the people who are not responsible for this?”’ 

The final decision on whether to cancel the flying-bomb was postponed 
until 24 January. When, meanwhile, Speer’s own Me 262 troubleshooter, Dr 
Krome, asked whether the various secret weapon projects could possibly release 
skilled workers for the jet fighter, Milch soberly replied: ‘I cannot speak for the 
A4.’ Krome pointedly asked, ‘Which do we need more — A4 or Me 262?’ Milch 
rasped, ‘We need the Me 262 more than anything else — more than submarines 
and more than tanks, because without this aircraft all armament production will 
become impossible.’ 13 ‘That is what I said four weeks ago,’ replied Krome, ‘but 
nobody drew the necessary conclusions.’ ‘Nor will they draw them in Ger- 
many!’ exclaimed Milch. Turning to Saur, he appealed: ‘Cannot the submarine 
and tank people realize that in four or six months’ time Germany will not be 
able to manufacture one more tank or submarine? Saur, cannot you realize that 
something must be done?’ Saur made a non-committal reply. 14 

The auguries for the coming year were clear and well-defined for those who 



wished to read them. On n January the Americans resumed their strategic at- 
tack on the fighter defence structure: all three bombardment divisions, 663 
bombers, set out to attack Milch’s aircraft factories at Halberstadt, Brunswick, 
Magdeburg and Oschersleben. Two divisions had to be recalled because of bad 
weather; the German fighters exploited the gaps left in the ragged escort with 
deadly effect, destroying fifty-nine bombers and five of the escort fighters, for 
the loss of forty defenders. 

When Goring’s advisers proposed transferring BMW’s Allach factory 
underground, Milch agreed but added: ‘One day like 11 January, with real 
combat between our fighters and an attacking enemy, is worth far more than 
any cave. I don’t mean to belittle our cave campaign, but it is far more impor- 
tant for the enemy to get a good thrashing, so that he doesn’t come back; and 
the requirement for that is that we manage to turn out enough fighters this 
month. It’s the famous “One Year Too Late” again.’ 15 Hitler asked Goring how 
much progress had been made with fitting the Me 410s with the 50-millimetre 
cannon displayed to him at Insterburg. Goring cabled Milch, ‘Again and again 
the Fiihrer inquires how many aircraft are already in service with this. Unhap- 
pily I have had to advise the Fiihrer that virtually no such aircraft is yet in 
service, and that only two or three such aircraft have been so equipped. The 
Fiihrer accordingly beholds in such displays the same kind of symptoms as once 
upon a time at Rechlin’ 16 — meaning the notorious display of July 1939. To 
those who knew Goring, this was certainly menacing language, and Milch put 
great pressure on the Rheinmetall company to equip the first thirty Me 410s 
with the formidable — and in due course brilliantly successful — weapon by the 
end of the month. 17 

By night, the RAF bombers continued to pound Berlin, but the promised 
victory was not yet in sight. On 20 January the RAF dropped 2,400 tons on 
Berlin — a noteworthy achievement when compared with the difficulty the 
Luftwaffe experienced a year before in transporting a hundred tons of supplies 
two hundred miles to Stalingrad. Together Milch and Saur toured the air in- 
dustry’s most vital factories in a special train, checking the production ar- 
rangements for the Do 335, the Me 262 and the Ar 234. 18 As they returned to 
Berlin the sirens were sounding for a British attack on Magdeburg. During 



their last three attacks on Germany the British had lost 130 heavy bombers, but 
still they kept coming. 

The only relief for the German cities in this ordeal was the increasing di- 
version of Allied bombing effort to the strange secret weapon sites under con- 
struction in France. By the end of January the ninety-six catapult sites for the 
flying-bomb, with their conspicuous ski-shaped buildings, were being heavily 
attacked. Twenty thousand of the thirty- five thousand French workers had 
been scared away, and a quarter of the sites damaged; but the Allies had ex- 
pended tens of thousands of tons of bombs, and had lost aircraft and crews as 
well. All this time, with ten thousand workers, Milch was constructing fifty 
prefabricated catapult sites a month some distance behind the ring of ‘ski sites’ 
currently under attack, and these had not yet been detected by the Allies. It was 
from these that he now intended to open the attack; he had no intention of 
using the other sites if he could help it. Whether or not the flying-bomb cam- 
paign ever opened, he saw that his strategy of luring the enemy bombers into 
‘fighter and flak traps’ 19 far from German territory was having good effect. 
‘The attacks on these sites are worth their weight in gold to us,’ he triumphed. 
‘Otherwise we would have caught the bombs elsewhere!’ 20 

It dismayed him that ambitious generals had reported too optimistically 
to Hitler about the weapon’s readiness: ‘All the Fuhrer’s orders have been based 
on the assumption that we open fire on 15 February,’ he complained. ‘The 
Fuhrer says, “You humbugged me once before at Rechlin, and now it has hap- 
pened all over again.’” 21 By mid-February this ordeal of waiting was over: he 
could tell Goring that the first five of the new Volkswagen series of one hun- 
dred had been tested, and all had functioned perfectly, travelling 140 to 175 
miles with only about one degree of deviation. 22 On the fourteenth Milch was 
advised that almost all the rest had worked equally well. He ordered mass pro- 
duction to be restarted immediately, and telephoned the Fuhrer’s headquarters. 
The long-range bombardment of London could begin in about two months’ 
time. 23 

A month had passed since Speer had entered the SS clinic at Hohenlychen with 
knee trouble; Milch watched with concern as the original malady was compli- 



cated by lung troubles. With the minister’s deputy, Saur, Milch could not reach 
any kind of understanding: Saur was ruthless, energetic and blindly partisan to 
the needs of the army. ‘I knew full well,’ Milch was to state in his resignation 
speech in June, ‘that it was he who had caused us the greatest damage in chasing 
his own arms production.’ 24 Milch could see only one solution. In his snow- 
covered hunting lodge in the forest outside Berlin he would lie awake all night, 
listening to the rumble of the bombers over the capital, and pondering on the 
future. It was futile to expect Speer’s staff to collaborate with him, still less in 
their minister’s absence. Only his total abdication of power to Speer would re- 
lease to the air industry the manpower, materials, transport and construction 
capacity, and the extra foodstuffs and clothing allowances which Speer had mo- 
nopolized. ‘If somebody works on tanks in a factory,’ he observed, ‘he is show- 
ered with food parcels. If the same man works twice as hard on aircraft produc- 
tion, he gets nothing.’ 25 

During his visits to Speer, Milch proposed his own abdication for the 
good of the air industry, if this was the only way. Speer approved the sugges- 

Milch did not have long to wait for the right occasion. On 20 February r944 the 
American bombers’ ‘Big Week’ began; in effect, their directive was to destroy in 
ten days an industry to which Milch had devoted the last eighteen years. This 
was to be the eclipse of the Luftwaffe — it was to open the doors to the Allied 
invasion in the spring. 26 It was an unexpected feature of the industrial reor- 
ganization carried out in r94i that it was unusually vulnerable to daylight at- 
tack, since Milch had regrouped the individual ‘production rings’ into tight 
geographical units. Now this was exploited to the full: Big Week opened with a 
thousand Flying Fortresses and Liberators, heavily escorted all the way by Brit- 
ish and American long-range fighters, striking at a dozen air industry targets, 
and particularly at the Me 109 factories situated round Leipzig, where thirty- 
two percent of all Me 109 production was concentrated. The factories had sur- 
vived the RAF attack during the previous night, but nothing could have with- 
stood the American saturation bombing next day. 

By the time the campaign was halted by bad weather five days later, ten 



thousand tons of bombs had been dropped by the Americans on targets ac- 
counting for ninety percent of Milch’s air industry. This had been followed by 
9,200 tons of bombs released at night on ball-bearing centres like Stuttgart, 
Steyr and Schweinfurt, and on Augsburg. Between them the two air forces lost 
nearly three hundred bombers, but the results were a catastrophe for Germany. 
In the industrial targets seventy-five percent of the buildings had been de- 
stroyed; Milch had lost 350 complete Me 109 fighters at the Leipzig factories, 
another 150 at the various Messerschmitt factories and two hundred more at 
Wiener-Neustadt. He had lost his entire production of twin-engined fighters, 
the only aircraft capable of carrying the advanced SN 2 radar, and at Junkers 
the current production of 365 Ju 88s per month had been halved. 27 On 24 Feb- 
ruary, with the German air force now fighting desperate battles by day and by 
night, Goring departed on three weeks’ leave to his castle at Veldenstein. 28 

Milch and Saur had already arranged a tour of the industry to discuss 
means of dispersing it in face of air attack. The tour could not have begun at a 
more opportune time. 29 A lesser man might have admitted defeat, seeing the 
buckled machinery, the blazing buildings and the hundreds of half-finished 
aircraft wrecked on the production lines. But the sheer scale of the damage that 
met Milch’s eyes acted as a challenge. His first shrewd decision was that these 
main factories should not be completely evacuated. At Oschersleben and 
Brunswick he ordered half the factory to be left where it was, explaining, ‘The 
enemy shall continue to attack them. I want them to believe that the factories 
are still there!’ 30 As dawn rose on the twenty-third their train was standing on a 
siding near the stricken Me 109 factories at Leipzig. Here 450 workers had been 
killed in their slit trenches, and the survivors had fled from the area and re- 
fused to return. 31 Milch recognized that it was madness to expect the workers to 
shelter in the heart of the factory area during American saturation attacks, and 
ordered that in future as soon as the air-raid warning sounded the entire fac- 
tory staff was to form up in a column of threes and ‘march singing’ out of the 
works to a distance a thousand yards away: ‘They can dig their slit trenches 
there and watch their factory, and then if necessary return for rescue, salvage 
and firefighting operations.’ 32 Despite angry intervention by the local gauleiter, 
he also ordered that the foreign workers and prisoners killed in the attacks were 



to be accorded the same heroes’ funeral as the Germans . 33 When the final 
American attack fell upon Regensburg on the twenty- fifth, the Messerschmitt 
factory was totally destroyed, but there were only five casualties, as the labour 
force had been evacuated three thousand yards away in good time . 34 

It was as their train had been approaching Leipzig that the idea of a ‘Fighter 
Staff was officially born . 35 This body should control the urgent dispersal and 
reconstruction of fighter aircraft production. It would consist of the principal 
officers of Milch’s and Speer’s ministries, and be vested with special powers by 
Hitler himself. The factories themselves had no spare labour, no construction 
workers and scarcely any transport. ‘The local state authorities and Wehrmacht 
bodies confront these problems, as I have seen with my own eyes,’ said Milch, 
‘with an impotence and helplessness that is frankly staggering.’ And back in 
Berlin next morning he harangued their joint staffs: ‘The fight is not a hopeless 
one — it can be won!’ ‘The object is to give the enemy such a fright that they 
can no longer bear the casualty rate. Every time they try brute force — because 
their political leadership is much more callous than the airman who actually has 
to fly the mission — they have got to be trounced.’ Otherwise, he predicted, the 
same armada which was at present methodically ruining Berlin would in future 
be able to wipe out towns like Brunswick or Hildesheim, five or six at a time. 
‘What is the use of building a wall in Norway, if meanwhile the home base is 
destroyed? What is the use of emplacing one gun more or less in the Atlantic 
Wall, if we can state with certainty that the day will come, not long after the 
Luftwaffe has been defeated, when the guns will not arrive — because there will 
be no more trains running, no railway lines left crossing the Rhine, Weser, Elbe 
or Oder. Just try and visualize that, if you can!’ These were prophetic words, 
deserving of a better audience. ‘If you agree with me, then I will sacrifice all I 
have to carry out this programme as the Fiihrer and Fatherland would wish. I 
can see no other way for Germany than this.’ A memorandum advocating an 
inter-ministry ‘Fighter Staff was now drawn up and signed. 

Within six hours the whole organization had been agreed upon . 36 When 
Milch showed Speer the document, he adroitly left the impression that all this 
had been Speer’s own idea. Milch suggested Saur should head the Fighter Staff, 



as it was he who had sabotaged aircraft production all along. Now he should 
bear partial responsibility for it. 37 Goring, still ensconced at Veldenstein, and 
Hitler both warmly approved the Staff s formation. 38 Hitler commanded that as 
its first task it should construct two huge bomb-proof factories to house their 
most modern aircraft projects like the Me 262 (which the total destruction of 
Augsburg had fortuitously left virtually unscathed). 39 The factories should en- 
close a floor space of between seven and nine million square feet. Milch reported 
on the results of Big Week, and on their possible future production figures, but 
he leavened this picture with one promise which he now knew he could keep: 
they could open fire with flying-bombs on London at any time the Fiihrer so 
commanded. ‘Only the Fiihrer can make this decision,’ he explained a few days 
later. ‘I suggested to him that we ought to open fire on his birthday [20 April] 
and then not as an annihilating attack, but as the most evil torture you can 
imagine: just picture for yourselves a large high- explosive bomb failing on Ber- 
lin every half-hour, and nobody knowing where the next will fall! Twenty days 
of that will have them all folding at the knees!’ 40 

He returned to Berlin on the day after his talk with Hitler. At midday 
American bomber squadrons flew in splendid formation high over the capital 
and released sixteen hundred tons of bombs; they lost sixty-eight bombers and 
eleven escort fighters to the defences, but the blow to German morale was un- 
deniable. 41 On the eighth, seeing that the weather was again brilliant, Milch 
hurried to the First Fighter Division’s operations room with Galland, arriving 
in time to see the next American attack begin, the glittering squadrons of heavy 
bombers flying in perfect formation overhead — ‘An awesome spectacle with 
their condensation trails,’ as Milch jotted in his diary. A hundred fighters tried 
to intercept the enemy, but failed to reach them in time. 42 Milch left that after- 
noon for the Fighter Staff s first tour of the stricken air industry. 

During the next three months the Fighter Staff achieved a near-miracle. It pre- 
sided over the Phoenix-like resurrection of the fighter aircraft industry from 
the ashes of its factories, and achieved greater production than ever before. 
Milch and Saur toured the factories, harangued the weary workers and took 
emergency action backed by the full resources of the Armaments and Air Min- 



istries. Incompetent managers were dismissed or arrested, the rabble was 
cleared, temporary buildings erected and a seventy-two-hour working week was 
proclaimed throughout the industry . 43 Now the Speer ministry provided the 
additional food rations to make the extra work burden possible, and extra 
clothing allowances as an incentive for hard workers. The hardships were ex- 
treme: ‘We must not forget,’ Milch commented at the end of the first month of 
this gruelling winter test of will-power, ‘that most of our workers are accus- 
tomed to working in heated buildings, and are now out in the open air, exposed 
to all the elements .’ 44 

After the aircraft factories they toured the steel works, exhorting Krupp 
workers to hold out despite the mighty Allied bombing campaign. At that mo- 
ment the American bombers were attacking Berlin again, and that night the 
RAF unloaded over three thousand tons of bombs on Frankfurt. Small wonder 
that when Milch mustered the quartermasters and chief engineers of the Luft- 
waffe a few days later to urge them to scour their stores for spare parts now vi- 
tally needed for the production lines, he lost his temper when the treatment of 
foreign workers was touched upon and bellowed, ‘There is no such thing as 
international law!’ — an utterance with which the judiciary to whom it was ex- 
hibited three years later profoundly disagreed . 45 

The Volkswagen works, he now learned, would complete seventeen hun- 
dred flying-bombs in April and twenty- five hundred more in May. ‘My own 
view is,’ he said, ‘that we might begin at the end of April, if we do not wish to 
do so on too heavy a scale.’ The flak commander did not disagree, but proposed 
that they wait until a ‘really sadistic’ bombardment lasting many months could 
be sustained against London; it was unrealistic to attempt this with only three 
thousand bombs in hand — three thousand could all be launched within 
twenty-four hours, he thought. Milch replied with a warning: the catapult sites 
in France might suddenly find themselves in the middle of a battle zone once 
the Allied invasion began. ‘That’s why we can’t waste one day, not even a min- 
ute. In my view the thing must be put into action fast. June is too late. I person- 
ally would open fire on 20 April, loose off fifteen hundred during April and the 
rest in May.’ He gloated, ‘Every half-hour or so, a flying-bomb! That will suffice 
to disrupt the life of this city over a very long period .’ 46 



Then, a week later, the Luftwaffe inflicted a very severe defeat on the RAF’s 
night-bombers. On 30 March over seven hundred bombers set out to destroy 
Nuremberg. It was a clear, frosty night, and their condensation trails showed 
conspicuously the course that they were following. Many of the night-fighters 
had by now been equipped with SN 2 radar, or with Naxos Z for homing on to 
the bombers’ radar emissions. Conditions were perfect for the von Lossberg and 
Herrmann pursuit techniques, and that night ninety- five bombers were 
brought down over Germany and twelve more crashed in England. RAF 
Bomber Command felt this an appropriate moment to halt the night offensive 
almost completely. The Battle of Berlin, which Sir Arthur Harris had predicted 
would end the war, had ended in a severe reverse for the bombers, as had 
Goring’s similar assault on London in 1940. To Milch, this was the long-awaited 
turning-point, and he too recalled the parallel with the Battle of Britain, and 
the Luftwaffe’s attempt to destroy the RAF. Britain had survived that crisis; 
Germany could survive this. 47 





April 1944-May 1945 

the fighter staff's principal functions had been to restore component pro- 
duction in the shattered factories and to safeguard them by dispersing them 
into tunnels, caves and vast bomb-proof factories, or by decentralizing them so 
as to multiply and reduce in size the targets for daylight attack. This was a race 
against time, since the Allies often attacked the secret dispersal sites as soon as 
they were occupied. Between 9 and 13 April 1944 the Americans carried out 
systematic attacks on scores of such new locations, particularly on the ball- 
bearing factories. ‘There is no means in the world,’ observed Saur, ‘to keep se- 
crets with six million foreign workers in Germany.’ 1 

Yet the production miracle continued. In April Germany produced over 
two thousand fighters (2,021) for the first time, and in May 2,212. By September 
1944 the climax would be reached with 3,375 fighters manufactured in one 
month. Obviously this would have been impossible had the ground not been 
prepared many months before by Milch and his staff; but it was Saur who effec- 
tively exploited these hidden reserves, and made the production possible in face 
of all-out air attack. 2 

Albert Speer was joint chairman of the Fighter Staff with Milch, but only 
in name; by late May he had not attended a single session. 3 When, after the war, 
Speer allowed his interrogators to see in him the architect of this production 
recovery after Big Week, Milch commented in his diaries: ‘Young Speer does 



not seem to have been so much in the picture after all. That I was the one who 
first thought of a Fighter Staff, that he went on leave during March, April and 
May so that the whole burden fell on me, these things are not mentioned. Nor 
that its setting up was not primarily because of the air raids, but because of Herr 
Saur’s swindling of air force production.’ 4 Speer had in fact left Germany for 
the Tyrol, and had settled on a mountainside high above Merano; he referred 
to his absence as a convalescence, but to the hard-working Milch it was an un- 
necessarily extended leave. To Goring it was an unexpected opportunity to 
floor a rival and recoup his lost position in Hitler’s favour. 

Once, the Fuhrer had incautiously hinted that Speer was a suitable candi- 
date from the younger generation to succeed him, and this obvious high regard 
had earned Speer the abiding enmity of both Bormann and Goring. 5 Goring 
exploited Speer’s absence to introduce to the Fuhrer the quiet-spoken head of 
the Todt organization, Xaver Dorsch, as being greatly superior to Speer as a 
construction overlord. Goring’s most powerful ammunition was his allegation 
that Speer had patently neglected the Fiihrer’s six-month-old order, issued in 
October, for the construction of colossal bomb-proof factories. 6 At that time 
Speer had shown Hitler Dorsch’s proposals for artificial caves constructed by 
laying a mighty slab of concrete on the ground, and excavating the gravel be- 
neath it. Dorsch had also designed a bomb-proof aircraft factory to be built this 
way. 7 The obstacle was that Speer’s organization alone was responsible for con- 
struction within the Reich; Dorsch could build only in the occupied territories. 

Speer opposed such large projects for quite definite reasons: they would 
be too costly, too late and in themselves they would set back production by four 
or five months. 8 But he had agreed none the less in October to build at least two 
such factories. 9 Seven months later, no such factory had even been begun. 
When the Air Ministry investigated projects of its own for protecting its vital 
factories, particularly the BMW aero-engine factory at Allach, the Speer minis- 
try had refused to assist in any way. 10 And when the Luftwaffe then found a 
suitable autobahn tunnel in which to install part of the Me 262 jet-fighter pro- 
duction, Speer tried to requisition it for ball-bearing production instead, caus- 
ing Goring angrily to remind him: ‘You will recall that the Fuhrer has ordered 
you to build two big bomb-proof fighter factories.’ 11 



Milch also felt that the German economy could not support such huge 
construction projects. On 6 April he and Saur persuaded Hitler to agree to only 
one such factory, since the rest of the floor space could be found in an exten- 
sion of Himmler’s underground ‘Central Works’ tunnel complex at Nord- 
hausen, where the A4 rocket was already being manufactured. 12 This extension 
would be allocated to the assembly of a thousand Messerschmitt jet fighters a 
month and the manufacture of the Junkers jet engine and all its components. 13 
Milch afterward told Goring that the Fighter Staff s intention was for Junkers, 
and not Messerschmitt, to control the Me 262 production line; when the whole 
complex was finished it would also house an assembly line for a further two 
thousand piston-engined fighters and their engines. 14 By late April, however, 
no decision had been reached on either the site or the shape of the above- 
ground bomb-proof factory. This was the position when Hitler intervened. 

Hitherto, Hitler had shown little interest in the defence of the Reich’s cities. 
When foreign visitors pressed him for his views on the harrowing scenes they 
had witnessed, Hitler replied coldly that experience showed that a man who 
had lost everything made a truly ‘fanatical warrior’; and he would remind his 
questioners of how many times in the last centuries entire German cities had 
been gutted by fire, only to arise anew. 15 But he did recognize the need to de- 
fend his armaments factories. Alarmed at last by the growing weight and accu- 
racy of the Allied offensive, he impatiently rejected a navy suggestion that man- 
power be temporarily diverted from the air industry for repairs to a factory 
involved in submarine construction. ‘I also need assault guns and tanks desper- 
ately; but nevertheless, I have to have an umbrella of fighter aircraft over the 
Reich. That is the alpha and omega of it.’ 16 When he criticized the inexplicable 
delay in the construction of the bomb-proof factories he had ordered in Octo- 
ber, Dorsch advised him that his Todt organization could build only in the oc- 
cupied territories; so the factories were Speer’s province. Hitler replied that he 
would brook no further delays — he had had enough of this bureaucracy. He 
ordered him to take over the work immediately. 17 It was a slap in the face for 
Speer, and Goring welcomed it. 18 

Dorsch had his six-month-old blueprints flown down from Berlin for 



Hitler to see. Hitler now asked for ten mushroom-like bomb-proof hangars to 
be built on selected airfields as well. 19 The Reichsmarschall, impressed by the 
engineer’s unassuming manner, impulsively promised to place the entire Luft- 
waffe construction department at his disposal. Hitler again stressed to Goring 
the need for the bomb-proof factories, and explained, ‘I could never put eve- 
rything underground — that would take years. My highest priority is to put up 
a fighter umbrella over everything I cannot accommodate underground, and 
that means an actual front line of two thousand fighters to defend the Reich.’ 20 
This was the gospel that Milch had been preaching to deaf ears since the begin- 
ning of the Allied air offensive. Hitler ordered Goring to summon all the 
Fighter Staff and Todt organization officials — but not Speer — to a conference 
immediately. 21 

Milch was among those ordered to the Obersalzberg; he had not seen 
Goring for six weeks. A remarkable confrontation between them preceded the 
main conference. 22 Goring picked over all the old familiar bones of contention 
between them, and added Milch’s behaviour at Insterburg. He even repeated 
word for word what the field marshal had told him of his post- Stalingrad audi- 
ence with Hitler — how Milch had recommended the replacement of Goring as 
commander-in-chief — and quoted to the field marshal a number of insults he 
had uttered against him in telephone conversations. Milch recognized that his 
telephone had been tapped. He gleaned a possible clue to Goring’s rancour 
when he talked with the Chief of Air Staff that evening: Korten said that Gen- 
eral Zeitzler was asking for Milch to command an airlift for the beleaguered 
troops at Sebastopol — the same kind of mission as he had had at Stalingrad. 
How many festering recollections this must suddenly have stirred up in 
Goring’s bruised memory! 

The main conference began early on 19 April. Goring announced that the 
Fuhrer had decided that Dorsch should construct the bomb-proof factories 
and hangars, since Speer was unreliable. At least one of the factories was to ac- 
commodate a monthly production of five hundred fighters, ‘and the Fuhrer 
particularly wants it for the jet fighter Me 262’. 23 Milch and Saur reminded him 
that the jet fighter was to be assembled in the Central Works complex. Goring 
said that in that case the Tank 152 (a beautiful fighter to be powered by either 



the DB 603 or the Jumo 213 engine, with exceptional high-altitude perform- 
ance) could go into the bomb-proof factory. Previously Hitler had objected to 
three-shift factory schedules since this would triple the production loss if such 
factories were destroyed, but with the bomb-proof factories he had no such 
objections — he wanted to see the maximum possible concentration of man- 
power and machinery in the space. Goring again lamented that he had asked 
for all this once eight months before: ‘All this could have been ready long ago.’ 

Before they left, Goring briefly mentioned the danger that the Allies 
would attack the synthetic fuel refineries. ‘I have heard that the enemy is not 
attacking them as they want to keep them for themselves after the war. They 
believe it will be enough to destroy our aircraft.’ 24 That same day, on the far 
side of the North Sea, the American Eighth Air Force commander, General 
Spaatz, was given permission to divert the bombing offensive to these refineries; 
but it was to be mid-May before this offensive, which had been Milch’s constant 
dread these last twelve months, became a reality. 25 

At the Obersalzberg the Chief of Air Staff General Korten left Milch in no 
doubt of his inability to work much longer with Goring, and he quoted a telling 
aside by the latter to the effect that Speer too was ‘already finished’. Speer also 
considered his usefulness at an end. Hearing of Goring’s latest dealings, he 
wrote to Hitler from Merano warning of the folly of starting still further giant 
construction works, and regretting the dubious role he considered the ‘illoyal’ 
Dorsch to have played. He threatened to resign if his views were not accepted. 26 
Hitler was evidently minded to let him go, and Saur certainly did not defend 
his absent minister. 

After inspecting a big display of the new German armour at Klessheim 
Castle with Hitler on the twentieth, Milch asked if he might speak to him alone 
on Speer’s behalf. He argued that Hitler would be losing his best lieutenant in 
Speer, and one whom he could not well replace, through the intrigues of far 
lesser men. 27 Together they stood staring through a window at the tanks and 
guns displayed on the terraces below; Hitler began drumming his fingers ab- 
sently on the glass. Milch asked Hitler for some word of comfort for Speer, to 
restore their former basis of mutual confidence. At first Hitler would not an- 



swer. Milch repeated the request. ‘Jawohl, gut!’ answered Hitler curtly. ‘Tell 
Speer from me that I am very fond of him. Is that enough?’ 28 Milch drove at 
once to Merano and performed his last great service for the war effort, restoring 
Speer to his previous favoured position with Hitler. 

The Armaments Minister returned to Berlin early in May. Gradually 
control of the air industry was moving into his hands. Milch did not consider 
he had failed in any way — far from it. The RAF now hardly ventured into 
German skies by night, while by day the American bombers were wastefully 
committed to attacking the flying-bomb sites in France; both air forces had also 
begun attacking the French transport system, prior to the launching of the in- 
vasion. When shown a map of the railway sites selected for attack, Milch com- 
mented: ‘They are attacking all the approach roads for this entire area. Here is 
the area they are trying to cut off — from here to there . . . You can see from the 
density of the bombing that here is his Schwerpunkt.’ He pointed at Normandy. 
He suggested sending the map to the High Command immediately. 29 

Within a few months, he hoped, they would be producing hundreds of 
Me 262 jet fighters to confront the American bomber formations. A new Fighter 
Staff production programme, ‘226’, was being drawn up far in excess of pro- 
grammes the Speer ministry had previously dismissed as unrealistic. 30 But the 
studies for the new programme aroused the open hostility of the Air Staff, on 
account of its meagre bomber production figures. In February, March and 
April the industry had manufactured 567, 605 and 680 bombers, respectively. 
Study ‘1026’, on which the new programme was based, foresaw a production of 
about 550 bombers a month, which would sustain forty squadrons ( Gruppen ), 
so the other eleven squadrons would have to be dissolved; but a further study, 
‘1027’, anticipated production of only 284 bombers a month to allow for ex- 
panded fighter production, and this would suffice for only twenty-six bomber 
squadrons from 1 October 1944. General Korten saw this as the death of the 
bomber arm. 31 Milch’s argument that with the opening of the flying-bomb 
campaign against Britain a number of manned bomber squadrons would be- 
come superfluous anyway, was not accepted. 

General Karl Koller, Korten’s able deputy, prepared a lengthy memoran- 
dum highlighting the jeopardy their bomber arm was in, and suggested that all 



aircraft production should be concentrated within Speer’s ministry, while 
Milch’s remaining departments for development and research were regrouped 
under the Air Staff. 32 Two weeks later he supported his suggestions with an 
explicit study on the bomber force needed to maintain the German position in 
Europe.* 33 These memoranda were submitted to Hitler. 

No arms production could survive without air power to protect it, however, 
and no aircraft could fly without fuel or pilots. On 12 May the Americans initi- 
ated their attack on German oil production: the synthetic oil refineries at Leuna 
and Politz were extensively damaged. At an emergency conference called by 
Hitler between Speer, Milch and Keitel on one side and the synthetic oil indus- 
try’s experts on the other, the experts described in stark detail the position 
confronting Germany if the crippling American offensive continued. 34 Yet 
Hitler still hankered after a powerful bomber arm, and on the same day, 23 
May, we find him discussing with Goring a vast future Luftwaffe with a front 
line of fourteen thousand aircraft supported by a monthly production of five 
or six thousand planes. He agreed with Goring that in the final analysis it was 
always the Luftwaffe which had turned the scales in his campaigns, and he dis- 
missed the Lighter Staff s meagre planned bomber production as ‘quite out of 
the question’. 35 His earlier exhortations on the need for a ‘fighter umbrella’ 
over the Reich were forgotten. 

Thus opinion again strongly diverged. Milch recognized only one hope of 
defeating the crippling American daylight attacks, whether they be against oil, 
industry or transport — the Me 262 jet fighter. Lor this reason he had silently 
ignored the autumn 1943 ordinances to develop it primarily as a fighter- 
bomber, and had concentrated on the pure fighter version only. By May 1944 
about twenty of the pilot series were nearing completion, and ten prototypes 
had already taken to the air, but three had crashed — two because their under- 
carriage had collapsed, and a third had spun into the ground on 19 May after 
its pilot had radioed that he ‘did not feel well’. 36 

* Milch did not receive it until the end of the month, when he filled its margins with caustic 
comments indicating where the Air Staff had committed its errors in the past. 



These technical setbacks paled into insignificance compared with the dis- 
ruption that a radical policy change concerning this aircraft now inflicted. On 
23 May Goring summoned a conference on the Obersalzberg to discuss the 
Fighter Staff s programme 226; Milch, Speer and Saur were among the partici- 
pants. 37 He advised them of the Fiihrer’s resumed interest in a strong bomber 
force, and reviewed the history of their production effort so far. In searching 
for the errors, intentional or otherwise, they had made since r938, he concluded 
that ‘they had gone completely wrong as far as bombers are concerned’. Thanks 
to Udet, they had concentrated earlier on the single-engined dive-bomber. 
(Mellowed by time, Goring now conceded: ‘It will always be recognized as his 
greatest contribution that he created the weapon with which we achieved such 
magnificent victories.’) This had encouraged them to proceed to twin-engined, 
and finally four-engined dive-bombers like the Junkers 88 and the Heinkel r 77, 
while the Allies had methodically perfected the purely conventional heavy 
bombers like the Lancaster and Flying Fortress. The time had come to halt this 

Goring recognized the need to promote the fighter arm initially to allow 
for any kind of armaments production under its umbrella. Echoing General 
Korten, he pointed out, ‘But the thing is, that at present this is to be done at the 
expense of the bomber arm; and if this goes on the bomber arm will be finished, 
numerically if no other way!’ He now aimed to restore the bomber force to a 
front line of at least 2,600 aircraft, based on a monthly output of eight or nine 
hundred bombers. 38 His recent conversations with Hitler had enlightened him 
as never before, he added: only the Heinkel with four separate engines (termed 
the He 277) had any future as a heavy bomber. Therefore the Fuhrer had asked 
for this production to be brought forward, and planned at two hundred a 
month. 39 For the fighting in the west they would need the high-speed bombers 
like the Junkers 388 and the Do 335, and ‘as interim fighter-bombers’ the Ar 234 
and the Me 262. As for the future, Professor Hertel’s swept-wing Ju 287 jet 
bomber would restore German air superiority; this 530-mile-per-hour bomber 
would be produced at a rate of one hundred a month from December r945. 40 
The first three prototypes would be ready late in r944. 41 

Milch objected to the description of the Me 262 as a fighter-bomber: like 



the Ar 234 it could carry only five hundred kilos of bombs (about a thousand 
pounds) and it had not been designed for the purpose. He could not conceal 
from his listeners that 1944, like the year before, was to be a ‘y ear °f clenched 
teeth’. The time for optimism seemed to recede further and further into the 
future. As the conference broke up, Goring announced that Hitler wished to 
examine the details of the programme that afternoon. 

Milch certainly did not suspect that the storm was now almost upon him. With 
Colonel Petersen, director of the research establishments, he now joined Goring 
and Speer in a large unheated room at Hitler’s Berghof, with a large picture 
window overlooking the Alps. 42 Hitler listened absently to the details of the 
Fighter Staff programme, apparently gazing out over the mountains, until the 
planning for the Me 262 jet fighter was mentioned. Here he interrupted, ‘I 
thought the 262 was coming as a high-speed bomber. How many of the 262s 
already manufactured can carry bombs?’ Milch told him: ‘None, mein Fuhrer. 
The Me 262 is being manufactured exclusively as a fighter aircraft.’ 43 There was 
an awkward silence. Milch explained that the aircraft could not carry bombs 
without extensive design changes, and even then no more than five hundred 

Hitler lost his composure. He now realized that with the Allied invasion in 
France due any week, the wonder aircraft on which had rested a large part of 
his hopes of defeating it could not possibly come in time. He excitedly inter- 
rupted Milch, ‘Never mind! I only wanted one 250-kilo bomb!’ He demanded 
precise statistics on the loads carried by the fighter version — its armour plate, 
guns and ammunition. ‘Who pays the slightest attention to the orders I give?’ 
he exclaimed. ‘I gave an unqualified order, and left nobody in any doubt that 
the aircraft was to be equipped as a fighter-bomber.’ 44 

Saur produced the load statistics and Hitler totted them up out loud. The 
total was far more than five hundred kilos. ‘You don’t need any guns,’ he 

* No note survives of Hitler’s conference, but the language used there was quoted during the 
‘post-mortem’ discussions on it with Goring over the next two days, and these were recorded in 
shorthand transcripts. 



pointed out. ‘The plane is so fast it doesn’t need any armour plate either. You 
can take it all out.’ Turning to Petersen he asked if this was not so. Petersen, 
overawed, nodded and replied: ‘It can be done without any difficulty!’ (Goring 
rebuked him next day: ‘Jawohl, Petersen — you can look it up for yourself in 
the transcript!’) Milch, dismayed at this turn of events, urged Hitler to hear the 
others, but nobody else spoke out. General Korten stayed silent, and Galland 
was so badly savaged by the Fiihrer after barely a dozen words that he lapsed 
into silence too. In desperation the held marshal appealed to Hitler to think 
again, but he was subjected to a torrent of abuse; and before he could control 
himself he shouted back, ‘ Mein Fiihrer, the smallest infant can see that this is a 
fighter, not a bomber aircraft!’ 45 

Hitler turned away from him, and refused to address himself to Milch for 
the rest of the discussion. The man sitting on Petersen’s left whispered one 
word to describe what they had seen: ‘ Aufschlagbrand! — crashed in flames!’ 
Milch’s days of office were evidently numbered, and the number did not exceed 
two figures. 

Speer told Goring afterward that the Luftwaffe had not made clear enough to 
the Fiihrer the problems still besetting the Me 262. 46 But the basic objection to a 
bomber version was that the jet fighter carried its six hundred kilos of armour 
plate and armament forward of the centre of gravity; these could not be taken 
out without redistributing the aircraft’s loading, which might even mean alter- 
ing the position of the wings. The first hundred Me 262s and the parts already 
manufactured for the rest were nearly all for the pure fighter version. There 
could be no basic design change for the next five months. Told of this on the 
morning after the Fiihrer conference, Goring raged, ‘You gentlemen appear to 
be stone deaf, the lot of you! I have referred again and again to the Fiihrer’s 
order: he doesn’t care two hoots about getting the Me 262 as a fighter but wants 
it only as a fighter-bomber.’ He himself had insisted on this long before Inster- 
burg in November. 47 

‘The Fiihrer must have the strangest impression of you. From every side, 
including Messerschmitt, he was left in doubt about this, right from the start. 
And then, in my presence [at Insterburg], Messerschmitt told the Fiihrer that 



his company had provided right from the start for it to be manufactured as a 
fighter-bomber. And now suddenly it is impossible!’ 48 When Colonel Petersen 
enlarged on the structural and engine problems the jet aircraft had run into, 
Goring unhappily replied: ‘I would have been grateful had you uttered ten 
percent of these remarks yesterday! The Fuhrer says, “As far as I am concerned 
you can cremate the fighters!” He needs an aircraft which can force its way 
through by virtue of its sheer speed, despite the enormous mass of fighters 
guarding the invasion forces. What no civilian dares to do — simply ignoring 
superior orders — you gentlemen venture time after time after time.’ 49 

Milch could see everything he had built up being destroyed. True, Goring had 
now spoken in terms of a standing force of three thousand fighters for the 
Reich defence, encouraged by Saur’s estimate that he would produce a thou- 
sand fighters in the next week alone. (Milch sarcastically entered in his diary, 
‘Goring discovers the defence of the Reich!’ 50 ) But where would the crews now 
come from? With the modification of the Me 262 to fighter-bomber, Milch 
considered the war finally lost. He felt bitter at the lack of support during the 
Fuhrer’s conference. Even Galland had acquiesced in the dreadful decision al- 
though he knew that the Me 262 was their only hope of finally exorcizing the 
Mosquito menace. (Galland once said, ‘For the Mosquito there is no escape once 
a 262 has sighted it.’ 51 ) 

Milch privately appealed to Goring to make one last attempt to change 
Hitler’s mind. Then he returned to Berlin, resolved to swim against the tide no 

Speer now prepared to take over Milch’s aircraft production. On Friday, 26 
May r944 he attended his first Fighter Staff meeting, at the Air Ministry. It was 
the familiar Emperor Speer: he expressed himself well pleased with Saur’s 
achievements in his absence. His staff chronicler recorded: ‘The individual 
members of the Fighter Staff were introduced to him and he was apprised of 
their efforts so far and the current status of the various campaigns. Through 
the minister’s illness, the Fighter Staff, which he established, has become too 
entrenched in the Air Ministry. The minister gathers the reins into his own 



hands. Milch greeted him in tones of the warm comradeship which has united 
both men to the benefit of all armaments production.’ 52 

Milch recognized that the end of his long road was in sight. Over the next 
few days Goring called further conferences, and Milch was not invited. On 27 
May Goring did indeed advise Hitler that Colonel Petersen now withdrew his 
assurance that the Me 262 was suited to carry bombs. (‘I told the Fiihrer you 
did not mean it,’ Goring afterward told the colonel. ‘But it’s no good! It’s writ- 
ten down in the transcript!’ 53 ) Hitler repeated that none of his orders had been 
carried out. He himself was satisfied that a jet bomber could be built, capable of 
attacking area targets from an altitude of a few thousand feet. As targets he had 
been thinking of any troop embarkation movements on the other side of the 
English Channel, or the disembarking mass of tanks and troops swarming 
round the landing beaches. 

In fact, Hitler had strong doubts whether the Me 262 fighter version 
would really be of any use against the Allied fighters, which alone were the 
guarantee of enemy air supremacy. He believed the jets would find it tactically 
difficult to engage the far slower but more agile piston-engined Mustangs and 
Thunderbolts; the enemy would only have to curve and the jet would over- 
shoot him. (This fear was to prove well-founded. In combat the Me 262 
fighter’s chief success was to force the American long-range escort fighters to 
jettison their fuel tanks, which obliged them to turn back early; actual combat 
victories by the jet fighters were disappointingly few. 54 ) Goring pledged that 
every man working on the aircraft would now honourably try to achieve what 
Hitler ordered. On 27 May he telegraphed Milch emphatically: ‘The Fiihrer has 
ordered that the Me 262 aircraft is to enter service exclusively as a high-speed 
bomber. The aircraft is not to be regarded as a fighter until further notice.’ 55 

At a conference summoned by Goring two days later, ‘to clarify things 
once and for all’, Professor Messerschmitt and even Petersen blamed the absent 
Milch for the ‘misunderstandings’ which had arisen. Goring announced that he 
was transferring the project from Galland’s office to that of the General of 
Bombers, ‘to avoid further errors’. 56 When Petersen admitted that the jet en- 
gine had a tendency to ‘flame out’ above twenty-eight thousand feet if throttled 
back to reduce speed, Goring triumphed, ‘Then I can only say, the Fiihrer was 



right again, with his brilliant and instinctive touch!’ 57 And when Professor 
Messerschmitt began to explain how, after releasing its bomb, the Me 262 was 
just like a fighter again, Goring anxiously interrupted, ‘Not like “ a fighter” 
again, but “ super fast” again. Stop calling it a “fighter”!’ 58 That evening Colonel 
Petersen brought Milch the news that Goring was going to transfer air arma- 
ment in its entirety to Saur. 

To have resisted the Armaments Ministry’s overtures would have harmed the 
Reich. Milch did not resist. He stayed at his lakeside hunting lodge for many 
weeks, returning to Berlin only to sign important papers. He travelled for one 
day with the Fighter Staff to Hungary for the signing of the state agreement on 
joint aircraft production, but otherwise he slipped out of active life. 59 

When Goring complained half-heartedly to Hitler that the present huge 
upswing in aircraft production proved how greatly the Speer ministry had ob- 
structed them in the past, Speer replied that the increase had been attained 
solely by exploiting the Luftwaffe’s own reserves. * 60 

The Reichsmarschall’s reputation was approaching its lowest ebb. A week 
earlier German oil production had again been heavily attacked. When on 6 
June the Allied invasion of France began, the Luftwaffe was able to fly only 319 
sorties against the 14,700 flown by the British and American air forces that day. 
On the seventh the Ffihrer ordered Saur to hasten production of the Do 335 
high-speed bomber and the Me 262 bomber version. 61 (In Central Planning 
that afternoon, Milch burst out, ‘We are not on the offensive, but on the de- 
fensive! This is going to have to be recognized!’ 62 ) So low had Goring’s star sunk 
that during a war conference Hitler caustically asked him whether, in view of 
the lack of air victories during the Allied invasion operations, it was true that 
the Luftwaffe had taken out a ‘knock-for-knock’ insurance policy with the en- 
emy? 63 

A greater fiasco was to follow. On the night of 12 June the flying-bomb 

* Speer seems to contradict this in a speech at the Flick Building on 9 June 1944: ‘Since February 
we have on the quiet brought in capacities from the armament and Panzer industries into the 
aircraft industry. This is the reason, in my opinion, for the speedy success of the Fighter Staff.’ 



attack was opened against London, two days prematurely. The struggling cata- 
pult crews managed to launch only ten bombs, of which four immediately 
crashed. Of the remaining six, two were never seen again, one destroyed a rail- 
way bridge in London, and the other three impacted elsewhere. It was an in- 
auspicious start to a campaign in which Milch had vested such high hopes. 64 
The flying-bomb regiment explained that as the High Command had advanced 
the planned zero-hour by two days, the methodical timetable for the final in- 
stallation of the heavy prefabricated catapult rigs had been thrown out of 
joint. 65 Goring anxiously reminded Hitler that Milch was the author of this 
unspectacular weapon. 

Two days later the offensive was resumed. In the first night 244 flying- 
bombs were launched, and German reconnaissance aircraft reported that fires 
were sweeping the British capital. 66 Goring retracted his earlier statement on the 
authorship of the flying-bomb idea, but on 17 June Hitler telephoned Milch 
from France and congratulated him on the weapon: ‘It has exceeded our wildest 
expectations!’ 67 By next day five hundred had been launched, and by the 
twenty-second one thousand. During the next three months this weapon 
(which had cost £12 million) inflicted over £47 million in damage — in terms of 
cost effectiveness a clear vindication of all Milch’s strategy since mid-1942. 68 

Three days after Hitler’s telephone call, Goring told Milch that all military arms 
production was to be consolidated under Speer, which would mean Milch’s 
resignation as Director of Air Armament; this was confirmed by Hitler soon 
after. In Hitler’s presence, Goring added that Milch was also to resign as state 
secretary, but in order to keep their dispute private he would prefer Milch to 
remain as Inspector General. 69 

Speer invited him to accept the post of ‘deputy minister’ in the Arma- 
ments Ministry; Milch saw this as a token of his friend’s clouded conscience. 
‘Speer,’ he noted, ‘has persuaded the Fuhrer to make the change. Goring did 
not dare to refuse and Speer has a guilty conscience toward me. He asks if I am 
happy with the arrangement. My reply is that he ought to be able to judge that 
for himself.’ 70 The full extent of the change cannot at first have been appreci- 
ated by Milch. He wrote in his diary: ‘I transfer with air armament production 



to Speer and remain Inspector General of Luftwaffe.’* It soon became clear, 
however, that Saur was to manage the industry. At some indeterminate date 
Milch sadly modified the diary entry to read, ‘I go! Air armament transferred 
to Speer, I remain Inspector General of the Luftwaffe.’ 

Speer circularized the government authorities about Milch’s new ap- 
pointment as deputy Armament Minister, but he also made it brutally clear that 
his own departmental heads’ right to see him and act in his name was not 
affected in any way by this. 72 When Hitler addressed an arms convention at 
Linz on 26 June, he praised Speer and Saur for the miracle they had achieved, 
‘together with their colleague, Field Marshal Milch’. 73 But within a month he 
had forgotten whatever role Milch had ever played, and explaining to Musso- 
lini why he had taken all arms production out of the hands of ‘the military’, he 
said: ‘Thus fighter aircraft production, which under military direction reached 
only eleven hundred a month, was increased to twenty-six hundred after just 
four months and then to three thousand, and is going to reach five thou- 
sand.’ 74 That he himself had fought tooth and nail against increasing fighter 
production, and that any increase was impossible unless it had been planned 
and provided for at least nine months earlier (when ‘the military’ was still in 
control) was overlooked. 

On the last day of June 1944 Milch confidentially explained, in a bitter 
farewell speech to his staff, why air armament had had to be abdicated to Speer’s 
ministry. He conceded that the changes would lead to rumours and unrest, and 
that it was a remarkable decision to take in the fifth year of a war. ‘But the deci- 
sion has been recognized as the proper one, by everybody, including our supe- 
riors.’ He emphasized that the reorganization was not a consequence of any 
failure by the Luftwaffe or the Office of Air Armament. It had become inevitable 
as a result of the air raids — it had been inevitable as the only means of over- 
coming the obstructionism of the Speer ministry. ‘We did not have the con- 
struction capacity, we did not have the truck transport,’ he reminded them. 

* The British official historians of the strategic bombing offensive commented: ‘Milch had not 
expected to be replaced by Saur, but to continue to manage the industry inside the Speer organi- 
zation .’ 71 



‘Every request we expressed in these connections was turned down with a smirk 
by the offices concerned . . . Nor did we have any means of giving our workers 
the extra rations necessary for them to work a 72-hour week. So far as material 
allocations and parts supplies were concerned, we were treated like lepers.’ 

He recognized, he said, that ignorant outsiders would now claim: ‘They 
fell down on their job. They failed!’ He also recognized that his programme of 
industrial rationalization was still incomplete. ‘I do not believe I have been an 
easy-going leader — I have had to use some rough language and some harsh 
methods. Nor am I sorry for having done so, however wrong I may occasionally 
have been.’ He still believed in ultimate victory. But had Germany done what 
he had demanded for two years as Director of Air Armament, things would 
have been different today. He ordered the transcript of the speech to be de- 
stroyed except for one copy placed on his confidential file. 75 At a state funeral 
next day he saw Hitler briefly for the last time. 

The doctrine Milch had always preached — the doctrine of massive reinforce- 
ment of the Reich’s fighter defences — continued to attract support even after 
his abdication. This was small wonder, for on 20 June fifteen hundred American 
bombers, escorted by a thousand fighters, had again attacked the vital oil 
refineries. On the following day the same armada had attacked Berlin itself, re- 
leasing two thousand tons of bombs, and on the twenty-second the great Rus- 
sian summer offensive had begun, supported by four thousand aeroplanes. On 
25 June we find Hitler stressing the importance of checking the Allied air supe- 
riority, and asking how many extra fighters could be built if the planned two 
hundred Heinkel 177s per month were cancelled. 76 Saur put the increase at a 
thousand a month. The next day the Fiihrer emphasized: ‘In our position all 
that matters is the manufacture of fighters and still more fighters! With high- 
speed bombers as well . . . We shall just have to put up with the long-term loss 
of a strategic air force that that will entail.’ 77 Surely this was the familiar heresy 
which had resulted in Milch’s abdication? But Hitler repeated it on the twenty- 
seventh and again on the twenty- ninth, after which Goring issued to his staff 
the extraordinary command that ‘all production of bombers, torpedo bombers 
and the like, and all training for such aircraft, is to cease forthwith’. 78 He stonily 



overruled General Roller’s protests, proclaiming: ‘It is the Fiihrer’s will that 
only fighter aircraft are to be manufactured from henceforth.’ Now that Milch 
had gone, extreme chaos was overtaking the air industry’s long-term planning. 

On 20 July 1944 cruel destiny robbed the Luftwaffe of its Chief of Staff, General 
Korten, standing a few paces from Hitler as an assassin’s bomb exploded. Milch 
heard of the murder attempt and providently wrote in his diary: ‘Midday: at- 
tempted assassination of the Fiihrer. Thank God, miscarried.’ He cabled Hitler, 
‘ Mein Fiihrer! I beg to express my heartfelt joy that a merciful Providence has 
shielded you from this base murder attempt and preserved you for the German 
people and its Wehrmacht. May God continue to protect you and grant you 
the total victory you deserve.’ He signed himself, ‘Your loyal Erhard Milch, 
Field Marshal.’ 79 Perhaps these sentiments were sheer opportunism. But he 
maintained his contempt for the murderers of one of his best friends even 
when a more temperate attitude might have benefited him. When a Nuremberg 
interrogator put it to him that the assassination of a tyrant was in obedience to 
God’s Will, Milch replied, ‘There was no plaque on the Reich Chancery saying, 
“I am a tyrant”.’ And when a prosecutor confused the date of his dismissal, 
Milch pounded the witness-box and shouted, ‘Will you please note it was 20 
June, not 20 July! I attach great importance to not being associated with those 
vermin!’ 80 

After the murder attempt Goring developed a throat infection and with- 
drew from headquarters for over a month. Hitler proposed the very experi- 
enced General von Greim as Korten’s successor, but on 24 July Goring selected 
a more harmless alternative, Lieutenant-General Werner Kreipe. He later told 
Kreipe of the qualms he had had: ‘I hesitated at first to appoint you my chief of 
staff, since you — like your two predecessors — were Milch’s staff officer.’ And 
he referred to Milch in terms of extreme coarseness. 81 Korten’s own deputy, 
General Roller (a former NCO who had actually been Kreipe’s superior in the 
Third Air Force) was passed over. 82 Roller attributed this slight to Goring’s 
technical officer Diesing: ‘After all, as the new Chief of Technical Air Armament 
Diesing will be subordinate to the Chief of Air Staff. He must have leant over 
backward to thwart my promotion. He knows full well I emphatically advised 



Korten against having him as Chief of Technical Air Armament ... I consider 
him the most two-faced and deceitful officer in the entire air force. Korten was 
of the same view, as were Milch, Speer and many others.’ 83 

When the order for the transfer of the Office of Air Armament to Diesing 
as of 1 August was complete, Colonel Aldinger, the ministry’s organization offi- 
cer, had the thankless task of showing it to Milch. T know why you are here,’ 
said Milch, ‘and I know you are not to blame for this scrap of paper.’ Aldinger 
knew few men who would have displayed such self-restraint and sovereign 
good temper at such a moment. 84 

In Goring’s absence, Hitler occupied every war conference with recriminations 
against the Luftwaffe. In vain Roller pointed to the planning errors from 1939 
to r942 as the cause; the Fiihrer extended the failure to more recent years. 85 
When Kreipe reported to Hitler for the first time on 11 August, Hitler lectured 
him at length on the failure of Goring’s technical advisers, by whom he meant 
Udet, Jeschonnek and now Milch, and on the manner they had deceived him 
with ‘over-hasty promises’. It was Kreipe’s job to ensure that in future ‘clarity 
and honesty’ reigned within the Luftwaffe. 86 

Over the next few weeks the scales fell from Kreipe’s eyes. Hitler relent- 
lessly demanded the transfer of the fighter squadrons from the Reich to France. 
Milch privately reminded Kreipe of the urgency of devoting fighters to the 
defence of the remaining synthetic fuel refineries: each should have its own 
fighter squadron, given the sole duty of defending that refinery. 87 In time 
Kreipe learned the history of the Fiihrer’s order forbidding the use of the Me 
262 as a fighter: ‘Galland tells me of the Insterburg display which led to Milch’s 
downfall,’ he noted. ‘This has set back the Me 262 by nine months.’ 88 When 
Kreipe broached the subject of this order, Hitler interrupted him. ‘In a growing 
temper he made short work of me,’ Kreipe noted that day. ‘Now I was stabbing 
him in the back as well! Irresponsible elements in the Luftwaffe like Milch and 
Galland had talked me into it!’ 89 For some days Hitler weighed the possibility of 
abolishing the Luftwaffe altogether except for a jet aircraft force, relying other- 
wise solely on a tripled flak defence. 90 Eventually Goring forbade Kreipe to 
communicate with Milch in any way. 



During these months Milch faded out of the war picture. With Speer he 
discussed an idea for operating manned V-r flying-bombs against vital enemy 
targets; several hundred were actually manufactured, and about a hundred 
pilots for them trained, but they were never launched. 91 Milch took his leave of 
the flying-bomb designers and engineers, and then of the ministry’s staff. ‘I was 
a broken man, as the further course of German history could no longer be in 
doubt.’ 92 He continued to attend Speer’s staff conferences and accompany the 
minister on his journeys. In mid-August they watched the launching of one of 
the new Type xxi U-boats, and went on a submarine journey in the new Wal- 
ther-type submarine U793. It was the last time Milch saw Danzig, with its 
memories of the pioneering days of aviation. 93 

Late in September they toured paratroop and army units in the west. One 
afternoon, as they were all dozing — exhausted by early starts and long drives — 
in a field in Holland, they were awakened by the thunder of aero-engines. They 
looked up to see the American Eighth Air Force passing high overhead into 
Germany. Milch guessed they had seen a thousand bombers, glittering in the 
summer sunlight. One of Speer’s officials counted 987, undisturbed by flak or 
fighters. 94 

Thanks to the continued activities of General Galland, the Me 262 did in fact 
first go into service as a fighter aircraft. On 3 October r944 an experimental 
squadron was established with forty Me 262s under Major Walter Nowotny. 
The Inspector of Day-Fighters personally supervised the first few days’ opera- 
tions and selected the best pilots from the piston-engined squadrons for them. 
The unit none the less had an inglorious existence. On the very first day four 
Me 262s took off from Achmer; two were destroyed within minutes by enemy 
fighters as they took off, and a third as it came in to land. Two more took off 
from Hesepe airfield and one was destroyed by fighters on landing. Between 
them they claimed three or four enemy bombers. 95 

Numerous reports reached the Messerschmitt company of the pilots’ ‘in- 
adequate leadership, poor training and frivolous attitude’; there had been no 
advance study of the proper fighter tactics and, although the unit was once 
grounded for ten days by bad weather, Nowotny took no action to train the 



pilots. So severe was the shortage of fuel caused by the American destruction of 
the refineries that jet aircraft awaiting final flight tests at Obertraubling airfield 
had to be moved to dispersal areas by horses and oxen. 96 By 24 October 
Nowotny’s unit had managed to fly only three missions. In November Nowotny 
himself was killed, and the unit was disbanded, having destroyed about twenty- 
six enemy aircraft. 

By late October about 265 Me 262 aircraft had been manufactured, of 
which thirty had been destroyed in attacks on the Messerschmitt works; pro- 
duction in November was expected to be one hundred thirty, and in December 
two hundred. The first bomber unit to operate the Me 262 was KG 51, and by 
the autumn eight more former bomber units were being converted to the air- 
craft. Further Me 262 fighter squadrons were also established, including aircraft 
fitted with racks of a dozen R4M air-to-air rockets under each wing; but the 
aircraft had come too late, and there had been inadequate attention to the 
proper tactics and targets for such advanced aircraft, so the real threat never 
materialized in the way the Allies had feared. 

On the way back from the battlefields of Arnhem on 1 October 1944 — he and 
Speer had stayed to watch a before-dawn German counter-attack — Field 
Marshal Milch’s driver skidded at high speed, the car hit a tree and swerved 
into a ditch. Milch broke the steering column over his long-suffering back, and 
recovered consciousness only in hospital. 97 With crushed ribs and increasing 
lung complications, he lay immobilized at his hunting lodge until early 1945, as 
the war approached its end. On one October day the RAF released nine thou- 
sand tons of bombs on a single German town, the final proof of their complete 
air superiority. 

Uninvited, Milch appeared at Karinhall for the last time on Goring’s 
birthday in January 1945. The Reichsmarschall was astounded and openly un- 
pleasant. 98 Three days later Milch received a week-old letter from Goring dis- 
missing him from his last office, that of Inspector General. The office would 
remain empty to the end. 99 

Milch still remained in contact with affairs. Early in January one of Hit- 
ler’s intimates told him that Stalin had offered a negotiated peace, but that Hit- 



ler had refused to listen. Two weeks later the Soviet invasion of Silesia began. 100 
Milch was advised to evacuate his family from the Althofdiirr estate. 101 Hitler 
evidently missed Milch’s loyalty, because once he commented that it would 
probably have been far better if he had handed the Luftwaffe long before to the 
held marshal: ‘Then perhaps Udet might still be alive now.’ 102 And when Speer 
suggested a Transport Staff under Milch to repair the internal transport sys- 
tem, on 1 March the Fiihrer expressed his agreement to the plan, only to 
change his mind within two weeks as other elements round him persuaded him 
of Milch’s unsuitability. 103 

In the privacy of Milch’s home Speer informed him of Hitler’s decrees for 
the destruction of Germany’s industries before they fell into enemy hands, and 
of his fight against these orders. 104 Here too Speer drafted a wireless speech ap- 
pealing to the German people to obstruct them. There was the usual birthday 
greeting from Hitler at the end of March. (‘The Fiihrer sends greetings, but 
not Goring and his vermin!’ Milch entered in his diary.) When the Fiihrer’s air 
adjutant visited Milch two days later, he offered to return to the capital and 
fight in the ranks; perhaps he longed for a howitzer battery like the one he had 
commanded in 1914. Now Germany was being cut in two by the Allied armies, 
and Speer formally commissioned Milch to act for him in the northern half. 
Coming from Hitler’s bunker on 21 April, he reported that the Fiihrer had 
made a very fine impression on him, but not ‘that dodger Goring’. 105 Accord- 
ing to Milch’s diary, he confidentially mentioned a few days later his plans for 
escaping to Greenland in an aircraft, or alternatively living in a small canoe on 
Germany’s canals and waterways; two months after the war’s end he would re- 
turn ‘to take over Germany’s leadership’. 106 This was their last meeting for 
many months. 

The headquarters of the High Command were evacuated to a hut in the 
forest not far from Milch’s hunting lodge. Here Jodi told him Goring had ca- 
bled from Berchtesgaden announcing that he was taking over; the Fiihrer had 
disagreed and ordered the Reichsmarschall’s arrest. Speer chuckled on the tele- 
phone to Milch, ‘Goring has committed a tiny Dummheit! ,1 ° 7 Two days later, at 
2.30 a.m. on the twenty-sixth, Milch left his hunting lodge for the last time, 
heading for northern Germany by car. He met both German and Russian tanks 



along the road, but he drove without headlights and was not stopped. 

Hitler’s suicide left Milch less perplexed than his appointment of Admiral 
Donitz instead of Goring or Speer to succeed him. Milch refused to be traded 
from one slavemaster to the next ‘as in the most reactionary Middle Ages’, and 
declined Speer’s invitation to join the admiral at Flensburg. Instead he waited 
for events to overtake him in Sierhagen Castle near Neustadt on the Baltic coast. 




‘Was ist gut? fragt Ihr. Tapfer sein ist gut. ’ 

Nietzsche: Also sprach Zarathustra 
(Tenth Speech) 




May 1945-November 1946 

at the castle Milch put on his full-dress uniform with interim baton and 
braid and the rows of medals he had won in two world wars, and awaited cap- 
ture. At midday on 4 May two British gunners appeared at his lunch table. 
They disarmed him and drove him off to a nearby village where a Royal Artil- 
lery unit had set up headquarters; he was handed a cigarette and driven off by a 
major toward Neustadt. The gunners returned meanwhile to Sierhagen and 
looted his valuables; in their mess that evening they displayed two of Milch’s 
gold watches, his gold field marshal’s baton and an inscribed gold cigarette case 
given to him by Goring in happier days in 1936. 1 

British troops had witnessed some grim scenes of Nazi brutality in north- 
ern Germany, but few grimmer than here at Neustadt. It had been entered by 
Royal Marine commandos the day before. Three German transport ships had 
been sank offshore by Allied fighter-bombers and hundreds of the drowned 
passengers and refugees were drifting in the bay as the commandos arrived. 2 
The British had taken over the former submarine school at Neustadt, now being 
used as a transit depot for prisoners. The town’s marketplace was crowded with 
tanks and armoured cars as the Mercedes carrying Milch into captivity arrived. 
He was handed over to a squad of commandos and put under guard in a res- 
taurant being used as their headquarters. Moments later a commando strode in. 
He stopped in front of Milch, rounded on the field marshal and shouted that 



all the generals were criminals — they were guilty of the concentration camp 
atrocities. Milch pointed out that he was in the German air force, but the com- 
mando was not satisfied by this explanation. He suddenly tore the field mar- 
shal’s baton from his hands and began raining blows on the back of Milch’s skull 
until the heavy wooden baton snapped. Milch staggered and fell to the ground, 
shouting, ‘I am an officer — a field marshal!’ 3 

Milch was then marched into the local submarine school and forced to 
contemplate the infernal scene the commandos had found there. The officers 
shouted to the surviving prisoners, ‘This is your field marshal — you owe it all 
to him!’ Milch had become hardened to horrifying sights after air raids on Ber- 
lin and other cities, but even he was sickened. In his diary, he wrote: ‘It was an 
abominable spectacle — dead, diseased camp inmates, dressed in naval uniforms, 
lying about in the open air and in the exercise sheds.’ Later that day he was 
turned over to a Scottish regiment at Liibeck, where he was given a proper meal 
and even some cigars before he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war cage at 
Liineburg to await shipment to Britain. 

Here his relatives were allowed to visit him. On his mother’s farewell visit 
she mentioned the rumours that he had been mishandled by the commandos — 
his head still bore the untreated scars — and as he gave her his hand to say 
goodbye he felt something cold and hard pressed into it. His mother said qui- 
etly, ‘If they ill-treat you again, or torture you, use this.’ It was a small screw- 
capped phial of cyanide. This seemed the supreme act any mother could per- 
form for her own son. 

On r8 May 1945 Milch was flown to England, his mother’s cyanide capsule still 
concealed about him. As his plane crossed southern England and landed at 
Croydon he was surprised at the general lack of bomb damage. An Air Ministry 
officer drove him through London and out toward Oxford; after twenty miles 
the car halted outside a white house in wooded parkland, the first of several 
interrogation centres. Here he was to live for some days while his interrogators 
courteously attempted to persuade him to accept Germany’s sole guilt for the 
war and to give evidence incriminating his brother officers. 

The most important such centre was that at Latimer, a ‘Combined Serv- 



ices Detailed Interrogation Centre’ (CSDIC) to which Milch was transferred at 
the end of May.* He found General Koller, General Schmid (the former chief 
of air intelligence) and many other former colleagues there. The prisoners were 
told that they were there to write expert studies on their experiences, but it was 
the microphones hidden in the communal and private rooms — and even 
among the trees along the woodland paths — that made the top secret CSDIC 
reports so rewarding. Milch suspected this and wrote in his diary on the first 
day there: ‘They opened a door into a small room, and I found myself con- 
fronted by the astonished gaze of General Galland ... We had much to tell each 
other, and this was no doubt the ulterior motive, for one could take it that 
there was a highly sensitive listening device in there.’ 

Milch was to spend a record four months at this centre, interrogated al- 
most every day by British and American officers known only by their pseudo- 
nyms. The American Major Emery (or ‘Evans’, as he introduced himself to 
Goring, who was being held on the Continent) was an air force officer whose 
real name was Ernst Englander. The interrogations were of a military nature, 
unassociated with the war crimes trials proceeding elsewhere. Milch’s assertionf 
that the American daylight attacks on transport and oil plants had defeated 
Germany was an evident embarrassment to the British interrogators. ‘I think 
they are annoyed at me for speaking this obvious truth,’ recorded Milch. ‘Again 
and again I have been interrogated on this point. I can only repeat, the British 
inflicted grievous and bloody injuries on us — but the Americans shot us in the 
heart .’ 4 

Englander found the best approach was by ‘getting reasonably chummy 
with the prisoners’, as he wrote a few months later . 5 He had already interro- 
gated Goring at some length at Augsburg and confided to Milch, ‘Goring is 
such a liar that he cannot tell when he’s lying himself now .’ 6 From the field 
marshal’s reactions and the transcripts of his private conversations in the inter- 

* The commandant of the CSDIC at Wilton Park, L. St Clare Grondona, has described his own 
experiences in an article in the Royal United Services Institution’s Journal (December 1970), but 
he was not permitted to disclose the use of hidden microphones. 

t For example, in his (recorded) conversation with Englander on 3 June 1945, in CSDIC (UK) 
report SRGG 1313 (C). 



rogation centre it was obvious that there had been no love lost between him and 
the Reichsmarschall. A year later Englander was to write, ‘Goring and Milch 
hated each other, and we have it in their own words — there can’t be any ques- 
tion about that.’ 

He furnished Milch with increasingly unpleasant details about the 
Reichsmarschall: the man was once more a drug addict and had the gall to refer 
contemptuously to Milch as ‘that fat little man’. But somehow Milch was sure 
that, in general, Goring would have to speak well of him and his other col- 
leagues, if only to ensure that he was covered by them in turn. 7 ‘Goring is going 
to cost Germany dear even now,’ Milch suspected in private. ‘How the Ger- 
mans clung to him until almost the last moment — how they trusted him!’ But 
during these weeks Goring for his part resolved to make his final public appear- 
ance a last great act on Germany’s behalf. He was not afraid of death. ‘My phi- 
losophy is that if the time has come, the time has come,’ he told his defence 
counsel. ‘Accept responsibility and go down with guns firing and colours flying! 
It’s the defence of Germany that is at stake in this trial — not just the handful of 
us defendants who are for the high jump anyway.’ 8 Many months before, in 
November 1944, Goring had already proclaimed to his generals: ‘To stay alive at 
any price has always been the philosophy of the coward. ’* 

From a cell in an English prison camp the scene was not the same. Milch sat in 
his cell and watched as Germany began to pay for the war: divided, dishon- 
oured and starving, the ordinary people were bearing the brunt of the defeat. 
General Stumpff arrived, bringing ugly news of the pillaging and looting in the 
Russian zone. There were also rumours that the Americans had reopened the 
former SS concentration camps like that at Dachau. 

After the Potsdam conference the future looked even bleaker for the Nazi 
prisoners. On 10 August Milch read in The Times of the Four-Power pro- 
nouncement that the first major trial of war criminals was to take place at Nur- 

* Personal papers of General Roller. The quotation is from a Goring speech to the Air Staff. He 
continued, ‘Besides, the life in this world is by no means so sublime that I am not willing to pass 
on with great wonderment and curiosity to find out what it is like in the next .’ 9 



emberg, with Goring among the first defendants. But on the same day an 
American officer whom he tentatively approached to assist him in his defence 
should he also be brought to trial reassured him that the prisoners brought to 
Britain were not considered to come into the category of war criminals. None 
the less word soon reached him that he might be shipped to Nuremberg as a 
witness. He wrote in his diary, ‘The Lord preserve me from such a fate!’ 

The more he heard about his former boss Hermann Goring the more he 
inwardly raged against him. He obtained evidence of the corruption which 
seemed to have flowered within the Luftwaffe. He met one Heinkel director in 
captivity who had himself signed a cheque for forty thousand Reichsmarks for a 
senior test pilot to persuade him to report favourably on the ill-conceived 
Heinkel 177 prototypes. 10 Goring seemed to have been financially involved in 
many aircraft companies. ‘Late in the afternoon Fritz Siebel joined us. He didn’t 
want to talk about Goring. When I asked about the latter’s rake-off from his 
aircraft factory, he suddenly went red!’ 11 And again, 

General Kreipe came back on to the theme of the aluminium plants 
in Norway, which I had opposed both verbally and in writing. To- 
day I am beginning to suspect that Goring was getting his cut from 
these as well, like Koppenberg and friends. After all, one and a half 
billion marks were invested for a return of nil point nil. We never 
got as much aluminium out of Norway during the war as the exist- 
ing factories had produced there in peacetime . . . The crook’s 
proper place is before a German court martial! 12 

Toward the end of August 1945 Milch was flown back to southern Ger- 
many in a Flying Fortress. Quite informally, he had thus been transferred from 
British to American custody, a technicality which was to cause some anxious 
moments for the Allies when sentence came to be passed on him. He was im- 
prisoned in the Air Interrogation Centre at Kaufbeuren, a former lunatic asy- 
lum where Nazi doctors had been engaged in liquidating the mentally handi- 
capped patients for some years. Milch had no idea what was wanted of him un- 
til late in September, when the uncertainty began to clear. On the twenty-third 



Englander visited him, explaining that he was about to call on Albert Speer, 
who was a witness in the coming trial, and would Milch like to go to Nuremberg 
as a witness as well? The held marshal emphatically declined . 13 Englander’s in- 
vitation was evidently purely a formality, for on 12 October Milch was called for 
anyway by car and driven off to Nuremberg. At two o’clock that afternoon he 
was in the prison yard of the forbidding Palace of Justice, within the walls of 
Hitler’s erstwhile capital of the Nazi movement, and meeting the prison com- 
mandant for the first time. 

The Nuremberg trials have already exercised enough minds to make any dis- 
course upon them here superfluous. Ironically, Milch had been brought to 
Nuremberg as a witness for the prosecution: news of his unconcealed hatred for 
Goring was no doubt the reason for his presence here. But in the prison’s con- 
fines he suffered such indignities at the hands of the Americans, and heard such 
remarkable reports through the prison grapevine of the transformation his 
former commander-in-chief had undergone, that he resolved to defend the 
Reichsmarschall to the best of his ability. Besides, he met the ailing and elderly 
Field Marshal von Blomberg again and he was also speaking more favourably of 
Goring now; together with General Guderian (Hitler’s former army chief of 
staff), Milch and Blomberg formed one of the factions in the witnesses’ wing of 
the prison. A rival faction formed round the General Staff: Haider (‘who re- 
fused my proffered hand’), von Falkenhorst (‘servile as ever’) and the younger 
von Brauchitsch belonged to it, as did General Warlimont, Jodi’s deputy . 14 

Eleven days after the gates of Nuremberg Prison closed behind him, 
Milch was summoned before Major John J. Monigan, Jr, for his first interroga- 
tion . 15 It began harmlessly, touching on Milch’s official relations with Speer 
(who was in fact indicted among the defendants) and on the history of Central 
Planning. But after about an hour Monigan changed the subject. ‘Leaving 
Central Planning for the moment — part of your duty in the Air Ministry was 
the development of new equipment, was it not?’ Milch agreed that since r94r 
this was so — ‘technical developments like aeroplanes and so forth’. Monigan 
pressed him, ‘What was the situation regarding the use of the pressure chamber 
in the development of aviation?’ The field marshal gave a neutral answer, but 



the major persisted, ‘Were you familiar with the experiments which were car- 
ried out with pressure chambers?’ Monigan now asked how Heinrich Himmler 
and the SS had become involved in the experiments and whether the Luft- 
waffe’s Surgeon-General Dr Hippke was involved. And had not Himmler ap- 
proached Hippke about airmen who had parachuted into the sea, to ask if the 
Air Ministry would assist in low-temperature experiments on human beings? 

Milch replied that Hippke had refused the SS overtures because such ex- 
periments were superfluous. ‘After all,’ he added, ‘we had enough experience — 
we had saved several hundred airmen who had been swimming in the Channel 
at very low temperatures. And we had several doctors who tried out these ex- 
periments on themselves until they lost consciousness, and so all the questions 
connected with this matter were perfectly clear to us.’ Monigan asked about a 
former Luftwaffe doctor who had been transferred to the SS: ‘The name was 
Rascher.’* Milch did not know him. The Americans then asked if he had seen a 
film of experiments on human beings and Milch replied, ‘I say again, on oath, 
that I never saw a him or anything that had any connection with people who 
were undergoing water-cooling.’ 

When he returned to his cell he could see ahead more clearly than for a 
long time. In his diary he mused, ‘I only knew that Hippke complained to me 
that the SS was now trying to work its way into this as well, and that he had 
rejected a proposal for a combined research project.’ Next day he was con- 
fronted with a letter signed by him in r942 actually referring to Dr Rascher. 16 It 
read: ‘Dear Herr Himmler, Many thanks for your letter of 25 August. I have 
read with great interest the report of Dr Rascher and Dr Romberg.f I have 

* Dr Sigmund Rascher and his wife had conducted these experiments on concentration-camp 
prisoners at Dachau; both were shot by the SS in April 1945 for fraud. The background and 
medical value of the experiments are investigated in the report prepared by Major Leo Alexan- 
der, MC, U.S. Army: ‘The Treatment of Shock from Prolonged Exposure to Cold, Especially in 
Water’ (CIOS Black List Item 24, Medical). 

f Dr Hans Romberg was put on trial in the doctors’ trial, which ran parallel to the Milch trial, 
for the low-pressure experiments on human beings; but he was acquitted (as was Milch on this 
count). As for not having recalled the name ‘Rascher’, Milch’s personal assistant was to testify 
that the field marshal once signed eight hundred letters in three days and his adjutant testified 
that the daily postbag of Air Armament alone was about three thousand letters. 17 



been informed of the current experiments. In the near future I shall ask the two 
gentlemen to talk to my people and show them a film.’ 18 Having read this, 
Milch suggested that it was just a diplomatic reply to a letter from Himmler 
which he himself had no recollection of receiving. But there was another docu- 
ment confronting him on the interrogation table, a letter from him to 
Himmler’s former chief of staff, SS General Karl Wolff. This stated that Hippke 
considered that the continuation of a different set of experiments on the effects 
of high altitude (or low pressure) being conducted at Dachau had no point, but 
that the ministry was interested in other experiments relating to the problems 
of air-sea rescue, and in particular the effects of low temperature on human 
bodies; the Luftwaffe’s Dr Rascher would be seconded to the SS until further 
notice for this purpose. The letter concluded, ‘The low-pressure chamber is not 
required for these low-temperature experiments, but it is urgently needed else- 
where and thus cannot be left at Dachau any longer. I wish to express the 
thanks of the commander-in-chief to the SS for their great assistance and re- 
main, with best wishes to an old comrade-in-arms, always yours, E. Milch.’ 19 

At first Milch believed that the Dachau experiments referred to were the 
standard physiological experiments on Luftwaffe volunteers. But it was evident 
from further documents in this Nuremberg dossier that the SS experiments 
conducted by Rascher using borrowed equipment from an aeronautical re- 
search institute had overstepped this harmless concept. The wretched concen- 
tration camp prisoners had been partially immersed in ice-cold water and their 
bodily functions had been measured until they died (or could be resuscitated, 
which was not often). These savage and barbarous Nazi experiments had been 
filmed and the film had been shown to an (evidently hostile) audience of 
aeromedical experts at the Reich Air Ministry on n September 1942. 20 To the 
Dachau scientists’ annoyance the state secretary, Erhard Milch, had still not 
seen the film when it was removed from the ministry building three days 
later. 21 

If the intention was to intimidate him, the two-hour interrogation was 
not without success, for his diary reflected a more pensive mood that evening, 
but his outward reaction was to offer an even more determined resistance to the 
subsequent American pressure on him to testify against Goring and Speer in 



the coming trial. On 27 October 1945 he was again taken into the interrogation 
room; this time they tried unsuccessfully to convince him that Goring had pre- 
pared the German air force for a war of aggression. 22 The mental pressure on 
him was stepped up: perhaps it was his rank that was the source of his forti- 
tude? The Americans raided his personal effects and stripped all badges of rank 
from his uniform. Milch still proved uncooperative. The witnesses were now 
being treated only marginally better than the defendants on whom the indict- 
ments had recently been served. The cells were unheated and open to the 
winds, and for days at a time they were allowed no outside exercise at all. ‘Just 
twelve minutes outside today!’ complained Milch on the last day of October. 23 
But even so he was being treated better than the tens of thousands of slave la- 
bourers who had worked (and often perished) in the aircraft factories, and this 
was to become a point of contention when Milch’s own trial began. 

To Milch it seemed that the Allies were trying to exploit the rivalries and jeal- 
ousies of the German leaders to divide the enemy camp before the trial began. 
Goring was the principal target of this campaign. Milch wrote, ‘[Field Marshal] 
von Brauchitsch has been told of insulting remarks Goring has uttered about 
the army and navy. What does this idiot think he is up to? Can he still not see 
that after Hitler he bears the greatest blame in the eyes of the German people? 
This antique- dealer and yellow-belly!’ 24 Yet he also knew that Goring was loyally 
keeping the secret of Milch’s parentage, and perhaps it was this that warmed 
him toward his former boss. Goring correctly informed the Americans that he 
had requested State-Secretary Stuckart of the Ministry of the Interior to alter 
Milch’s birth certificate in accordance with certain facts that had been estab- 
lished,* and his other state-secretary, Paul Korner, confirmed this. That there 
was far more than this to the truth was a secret manfully kept by all who knew it 
and the Americans never found it out. 

For the Germans and for the forces of occupation alike a hard winter was 
beginning. On 20 November 1945 the main Nuremberg trial began. Meantime, 
lack of food and exercise was beginning to tell on the prisoners; Milch had at- 



tacks of giddiness and was losing weight fast. The sentries made it increasingly 
difficult for the prisoners to sleep: all night long there were commotions, spot- 
lights were suddenly beamed into their faces and lighted cigarette butts were 
tossed onto the sleeping men. Field Marshal von Blomberg fell ill with cancer 
and died on the Americans’ hands; like Field Marshal Busch, who had died at 
another CSDIC in England and was buried on a false death certificate on waste 
ground in Aldershot, Blomberg was buried without formality in an unmarked 
grave; and he was just one of the witnesses. Milch wrote, ‘I do not believe we can 
expect any different fate from his.’ 25 

This was how the Americans achieved what may seem to the reader to 
have been the impossible, in transforming Milch into an active defence witness 
for his old enemy. Goring’s defence counsel ascertained that Milch was pre- 
pared to be called on his behalf. On the way back from a discussion with Speer’s 
counsel, Milch saw Goring briefly for the first time in fourteen months — the 
Reichsmarschall looked much fitter and slimmer — and they hailed each other 
in passing. 26 Goring was going to need all the help that he could get; in Febru- 
ary 1946 he asked for General Roller as a witness, but the Americans replied that 
Roller could not be traced (although Englander himself had interrogated him 
at a CSDIC in Britain). 27 

When Milch stepped into the witness-box at Nuremberg a few days later 
the transformation was complete. Goring muttered nervously to his defence 
counsel that he must expect to be thoroughly blackened by the field marshal as 
their relations had been very strained. But Milch did his best and refused to be 
cowed by the questioning. His two days in the witness-box left both British and 
German newspapers perplexed but curious. Walter Suskind, reporting the trial 
for the authoritative Suddeutsche Zeitung, wrote of him as ‘a powerful, stocky 
man not unlike John Bull in appearance, clever and emphatic and not without a 
sense of humour’. Suskind relished the precise and unrehearsed nature of 
Milch’s answers: 

* See the epilogue. 



Instructions for the German soldier on the laws of war are printed 
at the back of their paybook,’ he says. Then he checks himself, says, 

‘I have my paybook here’, and fetches it out to read out some of the 
items. The effect is very strong — the simple gesture speaks volumes 
for his ability to improvise and for his judgement, and when the 
day’s session is adjourned soon after, we cannot help looking for- 
ward with excitement to the cross-examination still awaiting this 
witness from prosecuting counsel. 28 

And The Times commented, ‘No witness could have spoken with a greater air of 
confident sincerity than Field Marshal Milch.’ 29 

Erhard Milch was himself in no doubt that he had won the first round. ‘I 
was called as a witness at 3.30 p.m.,’ he wrote afterward. 

A description of my journeys abroad was cut short by the President, 
Lawrence. When I was asked about Goring’s attitude toward prison- 
ers of war, Jackson [the American chief prosecutor] interrupted, 

‘We have shown enough patience, but this is going too far. I object!’ 

The court sustained his objection and poor Stahmer, somewhat 
confused, asked me one more short question and sat down. When 
Laternser [Jodi’s defence counsel] asked for the reasons for the air 
force’s lack of striking power in r939, the President again intervened 
and cut me short. At about 4.30 the court adjourned until Monday 
at ro a.m. The defendants were mostly pretty low in spirits. For in- 
stance, I saw Jodi being led away and there were tears in his eyes. 

The courtroom’s magnetic recorders engraved for posterity the mis- 
guided attempts of the American prosecutors to brand Milch as a turncoat Jew 
— an exchange of some poignancy, it will be seen, when the truth of Milch’s 
parentage is learned.* 

* One of the American team had passed a note to Jackson saying that ‘Milch was made a full 
Aryan on the request of Goring, in spite of his Jewish father’. 



jackson: Didn’t you know that the decrees which excluded Jews 
and half-Jews from positions were issued by Goring? 
milch: No, I did not. As far as I know the decrees were issued by 
the Ministry of the Interior, the department concerned with 

jackson: Uh, as a matter of fact did you not have to take certain 
proceedings to avoid the effects of those decrees yourself? 

Milch paused for many seconds before replying. 

milch: No. I know what you are referring to. That was a matter 
that was cleared up long before. 
jackson: How long before that was it cleared? 
milch: As far as I know, in ’33. 
jackson: 1933 — right after the Nazis came to power! 
milch: That’s right. 

jackson: And that time Goring had you — so we’ll have no misun- 
derstanding about this — Goring had you made what’s called a 
full Aryan? Is that right? 

milch: I don’t believe so — not that I was ‘made one’ by him. I was 
one already. 

jackson: Well, he had it established, let us say. 

milch: He was of great assistance in clarifying what was very ob- 
scure to me. 

jackson: That is, your mother’s husband was a Jew. Is that correct? 
milch: That is not what I said. 

jackson: You had to demonstrate lack of ancestry through any 
Jewish source. Is that correct? 
milch: Jawohl — same as anybody else. 

jackson: . . . and in your case it involved the . . . your father, your 
alleged father. Is that correct? 
milch: Jawohl . 30 



With the conclusion of his evidence in defence of Goring on the second 
day, 11 March 1946, Milch withdrew from the witness-box. The correspondent 
of The Times complained, ‘Milch was enabled by the tactics of the prosecuting 
counsel to draw most of their fire upon himself. For nearly five hours he was 
engaged in a battle of wits in which the prosecution was apparently at such 
pains to discredit his evidence that it often seemed that Milch, rather than 
Goring, was the accused man.’ 31 Milch answered challenge with counter- 
challenge. Asked for his attitude toward air raids on civilian populations Milch 
replied (so far as he could recall when writing his diary that evening), ‘I can 
think of nothing crueller and more objectionable than such air raids; and any- 
body who still has any doubts has only to take a look at Hamburg, Berlin, Leip- 
zig, the Ruhr cities and particularly Dresden to see what I mean.’ 32 When the 
British prosecutor, the particularly able and well-spoken G. D. Roberts, sug- 
gested that the 1941 air raid on Belgrade was pure murder (as undoubtedly it 
was), Milch replied that the unpunished murder of Germans was currently a 
commonplace. Asked by Jackson whether he was an American prisoner, Milch 
replied that he was a British prisoner who had subsequently been declared an 
‘internee’ by the Americans in violation of international law. 33 Challenged on 
weak spots in his memory, he explained that it was impossible to remember eve- 
rything, ‘particularly as my memory has suffered from the severe manhandling 
I received after my capture, when I was beaten about the head’. 34 

When Roberts inquired of him, in his cool and level tones, ‘You are of 
course aware that Norway’s neutrality was violated?’ Milch, mindful of the Alt- 
mark incident, replied ‘ Jawohl ! To our knowledge, and in our view, it was vio- 
lated twice!’ 35 When he finally stepped down, Milch had declined to answer 
only one question — whether he considered Goring lazy or not. In general the 
defence counsel spoke of him as the first witness to have worthily defended the 
German cause. 36 The Times commented, ‘Unless means is found of keeping 
witnesses to the point, the Nuremberg defence will become an opportunity for 
Nazi polemics and false trails. The defence moreover is by no means incapable of 
using the trial as an attempt to divide the Allies, which is still the clearest trend 
that emerges in Germany today.’ Milch proudly wrote in his diary: ‘I must have 



knocked their plans into a cocked hat!’ 37 

On 3 April he was removed from the witnesses’ wing at Nuremberg and 
transferred to Dachau concentration camp, where he was committed to the 
notorious ‘bunker’. 

In the days when Dachau had been run by the SS, the bunker had been one of 
its main features. It was a low building housing a number of low-ceilinged con- 
crete punishment cells about eight feet square, each designed to accommodate 
one prisoner. Each had an open lavatory in one corner and a ventilation slot 
high up in one wall. Milch was marched into a dark and tiny cell in which — as 
his eyes adjusted themselves to the gloom — he could make out the forms of five 
other inhabitants. He recognized the voices of Field Marshals Kesselring and 
von Brauchitsch among them. Most of the space was taken up by four bunks; 
the two remaining prisoners had to sleep on the floor. 

For many weeks he was confined to the bunker, with only liquid nour- 
ishment and less than five minutes’ fresh air every second or third day. (‘The 
United Nations War Crimes Commission states that twenty-two German gener- 
als are now held in the former concentration camp at Dachau,’ reported The 
Times on 8 May. ‘Among them are Field Marshals Walter von Brauchitsch, Al- 
bert Kesselring and Erhard Milch as well as Generals Alexander von Falken- 
hausen and Nicolaus von Falkenhorst. They are housed and fed as prisoners of 
war.’) Eventually the International Red Cross and an American army chaplain 
heard rumours about the bunker and demanded to see the captives, but Milch 
and the others were moved to a hospital outside the Dachau camp perimeter 
before the Red Cross delegate, Bickel, arrived. 38 

Meanwhile Ernst Englander — by now a lieutenant-colonel — was so astounded 
that Milch, whom he believed he knew so well, had turned up as a ‘star witness’ 
for Goring’s defence that he wrote from America to Mr Justice Jackson to ask 
whether the unchallengeable evidence (obtained, of course, by concealed mi- 
crophones at the CSDIC camp in England) had been available to him. ‘I feel 
sure that with the evidence taken down in Milch’s own words one could break 
him down in court to such an extent that he would have to reverse himself and 



admit perjury,’ he assured Jackson. ‘I should like to see those boys hang and 
sweat rather than to make themselves out as heroes and martyrs.’ 39 The chief 
American interrogator sent a woman to question Milch in Dachau, but the field 
marshal could only (truthfully) assure her that as far as he knew no shorthand 
record had been taken of his informal talks with Englander. Since Englander 
had not mentioned the microphones to Jackson in his letter, his suggestions 
were rejected as unhelpful. 40 

For several months Milch had no official indication as to whether a war 
crimes trial awaited him or not. During July, however, he heard the first ru- 
mours that the new trials were about to begin and he thought it advisable to 
look for a lawyer. He wrote to Dr Dix, who had successfully defended Hjalmar 
Schacht, and asked him if he would stand by. Dix declined to represent him 
until the financial question was settled, and the field marshal was still not legally 
represented when late in August 1946 he was suddenly returned from Dachau 
to Nuremberg Prison, ostensibly for the purpose of further interrogation. 41 

Soon afterward he was taken with other prisoners to a room where they 
were showing a film of the Jewish death camp horrors. ‘Horrifying scenes, 
complete with a commentary by a German doctor!’ he wrote in his diary. ‘Hit- 
ler, Himmler and consorts must have gone quite mad. Even though we sus- 
pected none of this, the burden of guilt stands heavily upon us all. The more 
senior we are, the heavier the burden. I cannot comprehend how human beings 
can become such animals — and how different was the impression we all had of 
Hitler in those first years after 1933! But why are our victors doing precisely the 
same things now?’ 42 

He resigned himself, in his tortured state of mind, to certain ‘liquidation’ 
by the Americans, and began to write his life story, a painful labour in an un- 
heated cell from which every item of furniture had been removed, along with 
his spectacles, and with no usable light once dusk fell. 43 All night long on 14 
October he lay awake listening to the noise of the carpenters hammering in the 
prison gymnasium — constructing the gallows for the eleven major war crimi- 
nals who were to be hanged two days later. 44 As he had always expected, Goring 
was sentenced to be among them; and so were Sauckel, Keitel, Jodi and Ribben- 
trop. Albert Speer had attracted a lesser sentence and was to serve twenty years 



in Spandau Prison instead. (‘You’ll have to get at least fifteen years,’ he called 
out half jokingly as he was led away past Milch.) When Frau Goring called to 
take leave of her husband, the Reichsmarschall asked her to convey to Milch his 
gratitude for his courageous defence in the witness-box. So after ten years of 
long and harmful feuding Hermann Goring and Erhard Milch parted in a 
spirit of atonement. Goring wrote one last long letter to Winston Churchill 
(which has never been published) and swallowed poison, thus escaping execu- 
tion. Of the other condemned prisoners who were hanged in the gymnasium a 
few hours later Milch learned: ‘They all died bravely. One Yank said they must 
have had ice in their veins .’ 45 

Some days passed after the executions. One night a week later, as an icy 
draught was blowing across from the barred, glassless window to the ever-open 
Judas hole in his cell door, the sleeping field marshal had his final confrontation 
with Adolf Hitler, who was still alive somewhere and came to him in a dream. 
Milch’s telephone had rung and when he answered a voice had said that it was 
the Fiihrer’s secretary speaking and would Herr Feldmarschall like a few words 
with the Fiihrer? If so he was to tap twice on the telephone. (Milch’s muddled 
brain understood that this was to prevent the line from being bugged.) He had 
tapped twice and the familiar guttural Austrian accents had come on to the line, 
as hard as ever for Milch, a north German, to understand. The sequel was as 
inane as most dream conversations are. Milch just asked, ‘How are you getting 
on?’ Hitler said, ‘Is that all you have to say to me?’ At a loss for further conver- 
sation Milch retorted, ‘I was faithful to you for longer than you have been 
faithful to the German people and to me!’ At this Hitler had evidently hung 
up, but this weird conversation was still drifting across Milch’s memory when 
he woke next day, and he recorded it in his diary . 46 

The interrogations on the Dachau medical experiments continued. To- 
ward the end of one of them, the interrogator complained that he had been 
able to work any admission of responsibility he wanted from a subaltern, but 
that the higher up he went the less this was possible. Each general just passed 
the buck on to another. As the interrogator stood up to go, Milch stopped him: 
‘May I say the following! I am not interested in my fate — I should like to make 
that quite clear. If somebody says to me, “You were a field marshal, you were in 



a high position, we are going to hang you”, then all I can say is, “Go right 
ahead! I am not concerned about my own life. But I will not accept responsibil- 
ity for cruel acts of which I know nothing whatsoever, and which are totally 
foreign to my nature .”’ 47 There must have been a further brief conversation 
after the shorthand typist had been dismissed; at least Milch recorded in his 
diary that when he said he had a good idea why dirt was being dug up against 
him the interrogator replied that this was his impression too: ‘They want to pin 
the dirt on some people while they will let others off scot-free .’ 48 





November 1946-April 1947 

despite the numerous earlier assurances of Allied officers that there was no 
likelihood of Erhard Milch’s being put on trial as a war criminal, on 14 Novem- 
ber 1946 the American court marshal, Colonel Charles Mays, served a formal 
indictment on him at Nuremberg Prison. 1 He was charged with war crimes and 
crimes against humanity. The first and third counts detailed in the six-page 
indictment referred to the enslavement, deportation and maltreatment of mil- 
lions of people — civilian forced labourers and prisoners of war; the second 
count accused him of participation in criminal medical experiments on human 
beings, and in murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities and other in- 
humane acts. The ‘high-altitude’ and ‘freezing’ experiments at Dachau formed 
the main basis for the second count. 

Perhaps it is necessary to explain how the Americans came to put enemy 
prisoners of war on trial, and why they decided to afford Field Marshal Milch a 
trial by himself — unique among the American trials at Nuremberg. To put into 
effect the terms of the Moscow Declaration of October 1943 and the subsequent 
London Agreement of 8 August 1945 and its appended charter, and to provide 
a uniform basis for the prosecution of suspected war criminals, the Four-Power 
Control Council for Germany had enacted Control Council Law No. 10 on 20 
December 1945. This provided for each of the occupying powers to arrest and 
try suspects within its own zone of occupation; the military governor in that 



zone was to decide the form of tribunal and its rules of procedure. 2 The new 
law emulated the statute of Nuremberg under which Goring and his co- 
defendants had been tried (but it did specifically exclude a number of defences 
that would otherwise have been available under international law). 

On trial for his life by an American postwar tribunal at 
Nuremberg, Field Marshal Milch was defended by 
Dr Friedrich Bergold (center) and his lawyer brother, 
Dr Werner Milch (far right). 

(national archives, Washington) 

On 18 October 1946 the American zone governor, General Joseph T. 
McNarney, promulgated Ordinance No. 7, establishing military tribunals within 
his zone to try the suspected war criminals; and on the twenty- fourth he ap- 
pointed Brigadier General Telford Taylor, one of the most respected members 
of Jackson’s earlier team, as Chief of Counsel for War Crimes. Taylor was con- 
fronted with something of a problem, for the new trials had begun somewhat 
precipitately: he had had all summer to prepare the trial of twenty-three lead- 
ing Nazi doctors which was just beginning, but a second panel of judges was 
already arriving at Nuremberg and no case was ready for them. A full-scale 
generals’ trial — in which many of Milch’s former colleagues were to be defen- 
dants — was planned, but these indictments were still incomplete. Taylor de- 



cided, rather than have the new judges sitting round with nothing to do, to 
‘pitch Milch in all alone’. The held marshal was a big enough personality to 
warrant a trial all to himself and the indictment against him was virtually com- 
plete. In one sense the decision worked in Milch’s favour: in large group trials 
there was always the danger that the appalling guilt of some defendants would 
‘slop over’ onto the innocent, as Telford Taylor now points out; but in another 
sense the decision may have worked to his disadvantage, for these early trials 
were conducted in an atmosphere very different from that prevailing later, af- 
ter the descent of the Iron Curtain and the birth of the Cold War. Harsh sen- 
tences against the Germans were still a commonplace. 3 

The indictment signed by Telford Taylor was served on the field marshal 
in his cell. He had expected this development ever since leaving Dachau and he 
handed the bearer of the document, Colonel Mays, a letter in which he formally 
notified him that he was a prisoner of the British and could not therefore rec- 
ognize the jurisdiction of an American tribunal.* 4 The threatened trial may be 
argued with justification as constituting a breach of the provisions of the July 
1929 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, which had been 
ratified by the United States, Britain, Germany and thirty-two other nations 
(and could not be abrogatedf by any of them unilaterally). For example, Article 
60 provided that before the opening of a trial against a prisoner of war the de- 
taining power was to advise the protecting power (in this case, Switzerland); it 
was perhaps academic under the circumstances, but no such notice had been 
sent. Moreover, and more important, Article 63 provided that the court must 
be the same, and follow the same procedure, as in the case of an officer of the 

* The carbon copy of the letter is in Milch’s files, but the original apparently did not travel far 
enough, as Alvin J. Rockwell of OMGUS’s Legal Division was to write in a memorandum con- 
cerning Milch’s subsequent petition to the U.S. Supreme Court: ‘. . . nor does it appear that dur- 
ing any stage of the proceedings petitioner objected to the jurisdiction of Military Tribunal 11’. 
t It would be improper not to refer here to Brigadier Telford Taylor’s comment to the author 
that the signatories of the August 1945 London Charter (see page 347) included ‘with very few 
exceptions’ all twenty-nine of the Geneva signatories, and that he did not therefore consider it 
stretching the facts to regard the charter as a superseding treaty. In the author’s view, however, 
the fact that ‘the few exceptions’ included all the vanquished countries and that the signatories 
were the victors or the neutrals made it a unilateral abrogation. 



armed forces of the detaining power. Legally Milch could be tried only before a 
British court martial comprised of officers of field marshal’s rank. This does not 
gainsay the possibility that a military court martial might have passed an even 
harsher sentence than was to fall to him: it was after all a British court martial 
that sentenced Kesselring to death in Italy, and it was an American court martial 
that passed the same sentence on Yamashita. (Kesselring’s sentence was subse- 
quently commuted.) 

A state of war still formally existed between the United States and Ger- 
many and the unconditional surrender of Germany’s authority in no way al- 
tered the provisions of Geneva. The British Queen’s Counsel who defended von 
Manstein has written, ‘The status of the prisoner of war is the right of the pris- 
oner and it does not depend on the discretion of the captor. So long as a state of 
war continues, the captor cannot alter the status of a prisoner of war.’ 5 These 
were very real obstacles, and the Allies adopted various devices to overcome 
them. The Control Council issued ‘Proclamation No. 2’ seeking to nullify the 
provisions of Geneva: ‘The Allied representatives will give directions concerning 
the . . . revival or application of any treaty, convention ... to which Germany is 
or has been a party.’ 6 Since no action had been taken by the Allies to revive 
Germany’s participation in the Geneva Convention, this removed the Allies’ 
legal obligation to comply, it was argued.* 7 

Milch’s legal status as a British prisoner of war still further complicated the 
issue (since the convention strictly prohibited one country from transferring its 
prisoners of war to another’s custody). On 10 and 11 September 1946 and again 
early in October Brigadier-General Telford Taylor conferred with the British 
authorities on Milch’s formal transfer from their jurisdiction — in itself, an act 
prohibited under the convention. The British officers, Brigadier Lord Russell, 
Group Captain Somerhough and Mr McAskie (the British Legal Director in 
Berlin) agreed orally to his release to the American zone commander. 8 Milch 

* On which argument, however, OMGUS’s Legal Division itself privately commented: ‘It 
should be noted that this argument is contrary to the view as to the continuing effect of the Ge- 
neva Convention in Cable W-88419, dated 26 December 1946.’ Thus tortuous the legal mind! 



continued to insist that he was still a British prisoner. This was ignored until he 
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, when it was explained by the occupation 
authorities that ‘due to a series of lost letters and delays in mail delivery’ the 
written confirmation of the transfer was not received until 22 April 1947 — some 
days after the conclusion of the trial. Further evidence that the Americans took 
Milch’s prisoner-of-war status very seriously was that two days after the trial 
began an American prisoner-of-war discharge team arrived at Nuremberg to 
‘release’ him from that status. Milch refused to acknowledge his release and en- 
dorsed the document to that effect. He had been appointed a field marshal by 
Hitler; traditionally a field marshal remains active until the end of his days and 
no U.S. army corporal could deprive him of the rank that the Nazi leader had 
bestowed on him in July 1940. 

With the indictment now served on him, Milch asked to be represented by an 
American lawyer, but this was refused him.* A list of local German lawyers was 
shown to him and he selected Dr Friedrich Bergold. He never regretted this 
choice, for although an anti-Nazi Bergold was a loyal and fearless advocate at 
Nuremberg. He had earlier been picked to defend the loathsome Martin Bor- 
mann in absentia and in doing so he had learned much about Allied proce- 
dures: the British Lord Justice Lawrence (the late Lord Oaksey) had inter- 
rupted his final defence speech and after a brief adjournment directed him to 
omit a number of pages in which it was objected that trial in absentia was con- 
tradictory to the customs of every other European country. 9 Lawrence assured 
him that the missing pages would still appear in the printed record, but neither 
they nor the discussion between Bergold and himself are to be found in those 

A death sentence on Milch would (rightly) be a certainty if the prosecu- 
tion could establish that he had participated in the criminal experiments at Da- 
chau. Prima facie the documentary evidence on this count against Milch was 

* Manstein was defended by a British counsel; and in the ‘Wilhelmstrasse’ trial that followed 
Milch’s in Nuremberg, the diplomat von Weizsacker was allowed an American attorney, War- 
ren Magee. Both of their clients were convicted. 



damning and was more than sufficient basis for the indictment. The prosecu- 
tion team began to process other prisoners, whose outlook was somewhat 
bleaker than his (and most of whom were subsequently hanged for direct par- 
ticipation in the experiments). During November and December a number of 
these prisoners signed statements incriminating the held marshal. It was the 
kind of evidence that no properly constituted British court would have admit- 
ted, but for Nuremberg the normal rules had been expressly waived. Thus the 
SS colonel Wolfram Sievers, head of the infamous ‘ Ahnenerbe (Racial Purity 
Institute) alleged: ‘Dr Rascher was a Luftwaffe medical officer until the end of 
1943. His superior was the Surgeon-General Dr Hippke. To my knowledge Dr 
Hippke was directly subordinate to Field Marshal Milch as Inspector General of 
the Air Force. Milch must have been informed of Rascher’s experiments.’ 10 
(Sievers was later executed.) Similar statements were procured from Dr Sieg- 
fried Ruff of the medical section of the German Aeronautical Research Institute 
(DVL) and from one Walter Neff, who testified for the Americans that Milch’s 
name was ‘frequently referred to’ at Dachau, where he worked, and that Dr 
Rascher had said that he had personally contacted Milch: ‘The low-pressure 
chamber was brought to Dachau and taken away again as a result of orders for 
which Milch was responsible.’ 11 Clearly, if this could be proved Milch could not 
escape responsibility for the experiments. 

This file of evidence was complete by 23 December r946. Milch con- 
fidently expected that both Dr Hippke, who had actually drafted the incrimi- 
nating letter to General Karl Wolff, and Wolff himself could clear him if they 
gave evidence. Bergold asked the Americans to trace them for him; his colleague 
Dr Fritz Sauter, a defence counsel in the doctors’ trial, also applied for Dr Hip- 
pke to be produced as a defence witness. Bergold’s application was dated 2r De- 
cember. A few days later, however, word reached him that neither Hippke nor 
Wolff could be found. 

From every quarter news was now reaching Nuremberg of other trials. 
General von Mackensen and Field Marshal Kesselring had been sentenced to 
death by a British court martial, but not yet executed. 12 Milch wrote grimly in 
his diary, ‘I have resolved what to do if the time comes.’ 13 For the last twenty 
months he had been carrying the concealed aluminium capsule of cyanide that 



his mother had given him. He had been X-rayed twice since Goring’s suicide, 
but each time he had managed to conceal it in the palm of his hand while 
dressing and undressing. 

On 14 December r946 the American deputy military governor established Mili- 
tary Tribunal 11, which was to try Milch at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. 
Under the glare of film arc-lamps Field Marshal Milch was led into the court 
room for the first time six days later, to be formally arraigned by the People of 
the United States of America. He entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ on all three 
counts of the indictment. 

The three American judges who were to try the case against him were 
Robert Morell Toms (as presiding judge), Fitzroy Donald Phillips and Michael 
A. Musmanno 14 ; Judge John Joshua Speight was available as an ‘alternate’. All 
were state, not federal judges, but of the four the one who was to play the most 
fateful part in the final sentencing was Musmanno. Musmanno had his good as 
well as his bad points: he was patriotic, energetic and versatile, and his genuine 
concern for the betterment of social conditions accounted for much of his po- 
litical support in Pennsylvania. One of the eight sons of a poor Italian immi- 
grant and fifty years old, he had risen through the courts of Pittsburgh to 
affluence and renown; he had defended the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in the 
twenties. As a commander in the U.S. naval reserve he had acted as General 
Mark Clark’s naval aide in Italy. On passing through Nuremberg he formed 
more than cordial relations with two of Hitler’s former female staff who had 
been summoned there for personal interrogation. (He was writing a mawkish 
book on Hitler’s last days entitled Ten Days to Die.) Another of Hitler’s secre- 
taries who met him described his passion for uniforms: he had multiple photo- 
graphs taken with his arm round her outside the blitzed ruins of her home in 
Munich, changing into a different uniform for each shot. When Brigadier- 
General Telford Taylor heard of Musmanno’s selection he cabled to the War 
Department a tactful suggestion that his rank was inappropriate for the trial of 
a field marshal. (In truth he objected to the judge’s emotional tendencies.) The 
Pentagon responded by promoting Musmanno to captain, a rank he displayed 
in official photographs by drawing back enough of his gown to reveal the rings 



on his sleeve. 15 The other judges, and particularly Phillips, were sincere and 
professional arbiters of the law. 

The key role was to be played by the prosecutor, Clark Denney, a tall, 
handsome, hawk-eyed attorney, prematurely balding. He was of a complex 
character. To assist him he could call on a large staff of researchers, translators 
and secretaries and the full resources of Telford Taylor’s office. 

Milch’s defence counsel, Bergold, had also obtained an assistant — the 
field marshal’s brother, Dr Werner Milch, who was a trained lawyer himself. On 
Christmas Eve the latter was asked to trace Dr Hippke at all costs.* The Allied 
authorities had now been broadcasting appeals for Hippke to come forward for 
some months without success and they finally informed Bergold that the doctor 
was presumed to have fled beyond the pale, to eastern Germany. 16 Werner 
Milch went to the surgeon-general’s last known address at 23 Klopstock Strasse 
in Hamburg; here the missing doctor’s wife told him that her husband had left 
one morning for work as usual some days before but had vanished without 
trace. The occupation authorities knew nothing about him. But among the 
neighbours one woman remembered seeing a man being arrested that morning 
by British soldiers, and the description fitted Hippke. Milch’s brother inquired 
at each of Hamburg’s prisons and finally learned that Hippke was in Fuhlsbiit- 
tel Prison. 17 

‘Nothing enrages so much as injustice,’ the philosopher Kant once observed. 

* The court file shows that Bergold formally applied for Hippke as a witness on 21 December 
1946 and furnished the doctor’s address to the prosecution in so doing. Under the Nuremberg 
rules defence counsel had to explain precisely what they expected each witness to establish ( a 
procedure very useful to the prosecution, of course, as Mr Justice Jackson himself observed to 
fellow Allied prosecutors). From Bergold’s application the prosecution learned that Hippke 
would be able to testify that ‘witness [Hippke] talked only once with Milch about the Dachau 
experiments on the occasion of the answer to Himmler, that Milch and witness agreed upon the 
fact to decline any participation, however to disguise this refusal carefully, that Hippke made the 
draft of the letter to Himmler, that the Luftwaffe carried out their experiments with their own 
physicians even in peace time, that Milch never cared about medical questions and did not un- 
derstand them, that he never read Rascher’s reports, that moreover Hippke and Milch only knew 
that in Dachau criminals who had been sentenced to death by regular courts presented them- 
selves as volunteers in order to obtain a leniency of the punishment.’ [official American trans- 



‘All other evils endured are as nothing by comparison.’ But the fact that the 
outcome of a trial is different from what one might have expected, knowing all 
the facts (the ten-year sentence on Donitz is a case in point), does not alone 
mean that an injustice has been done. It is in the fairness with which a trial is 
conducted that we can identify justice, not only in the result. 

‘Mr Denney,’ invited Judge Toms when the trial began on 2 January 1947, 
‘you may proceed with your opening address.’ 18 

‘Your Honours,’ proclaimed Denney, ‘the defendant Erhard Milch was a 
field marshal in the German air force, state secretary in the Air Ministry, Di- 
rector of Air Armament, sole representative of the armed forces in the Central 
Planning commission, chief of the Fighter Staff and a member of the Nazi 
party.’ 19 After relating Milch’s early career, Denney continued: 

The defendant never went far from the aims and ideals of German 
militarism. He was one of that silent army of men who nurtured 
their memories, kept hoping and hating; but unlike the others, this 
man did not lie idle. He did not wait passively until Germany rose 
again, but devoted himself actively to that end. In 1921, one year af- 
ter his discharge from the army, we find him already heading the 
air service of the new branch of commercial aviation. 

Just how intimate Milch had been with Hitler was shown by his presence 
at the notorious conference of 23 May 1939, attended by only a handful of oth- 
ers: ‘The prosecution will prove that Milch was a main instigator of the en- 
slavement of the civil populations of the occupied countries; we shall show that 
he took part in the murder and maltreatment of prisoners of war.’ 

To the judges, the words may have seemed initially stronger than the 
substance. After Denney had spent some hours reading into the record a mass 
of documents relating to Sauckel and labour procurement, Judge Speight asked 
him, ‘Are you going to be able to establish some kind of connection between 
these documents which you are reading into the record and the defendant?’ By 
way of answer Denney read out on 6 and 8 January interrogations of Sauckel 
and Goring apparently made shortly before they were sentenced to death. The 



statements attributed to them were damaging and inaccurate, and enough re- 
cords survive in Washington to indicate — at least in Goring’s case — that he 
was under a wholly false impression at the time he was questioned; but he and 
Sauckel had both been dead for over a year, so Bergold’s difficulties as defence 
counsel can well be imagined. 20 He protested that the International Military 
Tribunal (IMT) that had tried Goring et al. had ruled more than once that 
such testimony should be accepted only if defence counsel had the opportunity 
of testing the witnesses concerned under cross-examination. 21 This would place 
Denney in a predicament no less awkward than Bergold’s, for much of his case 
rested on such statements, from people whose lips had been sealed forever. Af- 
ter a brief adjournment he reminded the court of Article 19 of the IMT’s stat- 
ute: ‘The Court is not bound by normal rules of evidence.’ And he pointed out 
next day that when Ordinance No. 7 governing these subsequent proceedings 
was issued it expressly stated that such interrogations were admissible. ‘Obvi- 
ously,’ commented Denney, ‘the people who drew up this ordinance realized 
that certain of the defendants in the first trial would not remain alive much 
longer.’ 22 The presiding judge had no option but to disallow Bergold’s objec- 

This was not the only problem confronting the defence. ‘Your Honours,’ 
Dr Bergold was again obliged to complain on 15 January, 

I have to ask for an adjournment for the following reasons. The 
case of the defendant Milch is particularly difficult from the point 
of view of time. I have of course already been working for the de- 
fendant Milch since November, but as I have already had to explain 
to the Court on an earlier occasion, by the time the trial began I had 
still not received the documents. I still do not have the transcripts of 
the Central Planning meetings.* I am allowed to read these confer- 
ence minutes only in the prosecution’s information room, I am not 
allowed to remove them from the room, and I cannot give them to 
my secretary to copy, but must sit and read them there and then. 



The office shuts at 6 p.m. I am here at court nearly every day, so 
when the court adjourns each evening I have only one hour to read 
them. I still have none of the transcripts of the Fighter Staffs meet- 
ings. I have been unable to speak to any of the witnesses we have ap- 
plied for . . . 

Your Honours, I beg you to accept that I am doing all in my 
power, and that I would willingly work from morn till night; but I 
still do not have the documents. I have heard by chance that the 
prosecution has already been working on this case for several 
months, while I have seen the documents only since the hearing of 
this case has begun. 23 

Musmanno objected to the adjournment requested but his fellow judges 
outvoted him. 

In the meantime — a bewildering feature to any observer familiar only 
with the workings of British justice — a forceful press campaign had begun in 
Germany against Milch. 24 (‘The Luftwaffe general Milch has pleaded Not 
Guilty, but what other plea has yet been entered by any of the Nuremberg de- 
fendants?’) The campaign was directed by a German claiming to be a former 
concentration camp prisoner, Gaston M. Oulman. For example, a month after 
the trial began Oulman wrote, under the heading ‘The Aryanized Field Mar- 
shal’, the following commentary in the German national newspapers: 

In the trial which began earlier this month against the former Field 
Marshal Erhard Milch, the defendant appears to be not entirely 
unmoved, unperturbed or insensitive to the hard accusations of the 
prosecution, who challenge that his private and public life has been 
that of a traitor. The twisted features of the small, stocky man flush 
purple with anger, as he nervously leafs through his papers, seem- 
ingly following the prosecution’s statements. The seriousness of the 
crimes of which Milch is accused, and his personal character, have 

* The court file shows that Bergold applied for these on 3 November 1946. 



been well brought out by Clark Denney, in a manner calculated to 
bring a flush of shame to even the most hardened person’s cheeks. 

Milch, wrote Oulman, was ‘one of the least likeable people one could think of. 
He was accused of ‘sending his men ruthlessly and uselessly to their deaths’. 
And the columnist went even further: 

All this fits in with the picture yielded by letters reaching the 
American prosecutor Mr Robert M. W. Kempner, in which distant 
relatives or friends of Milch attest that he — whose part-Jewish par- 
entage is beyond doubt — steeled himself against their entreaties and 
shipped them to certain death in concentration camps. One relative 
of Milch lived in 1943 in the Netherlands: a man called Maurice 
Robert Milch asked the field marshal to help him emigrate. Milch’s 
adjutant replied that the writer and his family would be sent forth- 
with to a concentration camp if they dared write one more personal 
letter to him. That was in January 1943. In the spring, Maurice Rob- 
ert Milch and his whole family were deported to Sobibor in Poland. 

None of them has ever returned. 25 

Had this infamous allegation been true, it takes little imagination to visu- 
alize with what alacrity it would have been investigated by the conscientious 
Denney’s staff. As it was, it was not even mentioned in the case against the field 
marshal. Nor had any such ‘relative’ been heard of by his family. 

The campaign against Milch as a Nuremberg defendant was not without 
its repercussions, however. Thus Dr Erich Hippke, who arrived from Hamburg 
and was summoned first to Denney’s office for an interview on 16 January, ex- 
plained to Bergold that he was fearful for his own future if he testified for 
Milch. 26 Another key witness, a senior foreign ministry official who was being 
held in solitary confinement at Nuremberg and was wanted by Bergold to es- 
tablish ‘that Soviet Russia [before the war] denounced all treaties of the Czar 
Government, among them the Geneva Convention and the Hague Law on 
Land Warfare,’ was afflicted by a ‘sudden loss of memory’ and Bergold was 



obliged to do without him.* 27 Friends of long standing cabled Milch that they 
could not come. Another witness was called before the U.S. Counter Intelligence 
Corps (CIC) and advised to absent himself. General Wolff could still not be 
found. When Bergold asked leave to call the former French ministers Delbos 
and Cot to testify on his prewar endeavours for a Franco-German entente, and 
the former Belgian premier Van Zeeland and ambassador in Berlin van Denter- 
ghem, the court denied the applications. 

Albert Speer, at least, had nothing to lose by defending Milch. 28 Dr Ber- 
gold learned on 3 February that the Allied Control Council had agreed to his 
evidence being taken in private commission in the presence of one judge, 
Musmanno. Learning that he would be called, Speer (who was under severe 
psychological and physical strain after the conclusion of his own trial) wrote in 
his diary, ‘Thought a lot about this.’ 29 But here too subtle forces came into play, 
for Speer had evidently drawn over-optimistic conclusions from the frequent 
visits certain high-ranking Americans had paid on him, and his hopes still cen- 
tred on the dream that one day he might be suddenly returned to a senior gov- 
ernmental post in Germany — a hope that sustained him for the next twenty 
years in Spandau. He was taken in handcuffs to be questioned by Musmanno on 
4 February. As he and Bergold were waiting for the hearing to begin 
Musmanno entered and shook hands with him. This harmless act had an un- 
predicted effect on Speer. ‘Did you see that!’ he whispered to the defence 
counsel. ‘He shook hands with me!’ 30 

He was feeling very ill and the strain of the months of imprisonment had 
clearly told on him. In his own diary Speer recorded, ‘No press or newsreel men 
present [in the courtroom]. Very pleased, as this allows a clearer testimony ... I 
sapped a lot of energy, as I was exhausted. Prosecution declined to cross- 
examine me. [Milch’s] counsel satisfied. Hope I did my duty toward Milch — 
by helping take some of the load off his shoulders.’ 

Bergold was anything but satisfied, however. The testimony of the former 
armaments minister was hardly what he had expected. Twice Speer had tripped 

* From the court file. Since Milch was accused of illegally employing Soviet prisoners on arms 
production (forbidden by the Geneva Convention), this was a very pertinent inquiry. 



him up on details and he had even insisted that Central Planning did concern 
itself with labour procurement, an allegation that Bergold had been at pains to 
disprove. Seeing his client soon afterward Dr Bergold lamented: ‘Herr Milch, I 
thought you said Speer was your friend !’ 31 

Meantime — and this may have been a natural consequence of the general 
disorganization reigning within the ruined and defeated Germany — Bergold 
was having difficulties in securing his other witnesses. In court next day he rose 
and said, ‘I would like to put to you a further worry of mine, your Honours. 
There is a large number of witnesses approved by this court, including several 
in the hands of the American occupying forces, who have not yet been brought 
to Nuremberg. I have made frequent representations about this already.’ His 
carefully organized timetable for hearing each defence witness was in danger of 
collapse and the prosecution authorities were certainly not making life easier: 
Dr Hippke, whom he had traced with such difficulty, had now been arrested by 
the Nuremberg authorities and was being held incommunicado. ‘There is an 
order by the prosecution posted downstairs in the interrogation room,’ Bergold 
protested on 6 February, ‘that for eight days no defence counsel is to be allowed 
to speak with Hippke. That in my view is something not allowed even under 
American law.’ Bergold declared that he was sure that Mr Denney had nothing 
to do with this, but he continued: ‘My difficulty is as follows. I have to begin 
tomorrow to deal with that count of the indictment concerning the Dachau 
experiments. My key witness is Dr Hippke, whom I had wanted to call to the 
witness-stand tomorrow morning. Your Honours will understand that I must 
speak to him today — in fact I had really wanted to see him yesterday.’ 

Denney denied all knowledge of the incident and Bergold willingly ac- 
cepted his assurances. From the court file we know that Bergold had applied for 
Hippke on 21 December, specifying Hippke’s hitherto unknown Hamburg ad- 
dress. Denney now stated that the prosecution had been searching for Hippke 
for several months. ‘We were not able to find him. He was in the British zone 
and was arrested in about December — I think it was about the twenty-first .’ 32 
But he disposed of any suspicions that might otherwise have lingered in the 
court’s mind: ‘I can assure the court that I did not take [Bergold’s] application 
into my hands, read it and then order somebody: “Arrest that man!”’ The court 



ordered that nothing should be put in the way of Dr Bergold’s interviewing the 
surgeon-general that evening and putting him into the witness-box next day.* 

Dr Erich Hippke entered the witness-box on 7 February. 

With his first answers the ‘Dachau experiments’ case against Milch col- 
lapsed. He testified that while he had been directly subordinate to Milch up to 
1940 or 1941, he had thereafter been transferred to the Head of Air Defence 
(General Rudel, who was succeeded by General Foerster). 33 He explained that 
he himself had drafted the letter to General Wolff and that Milch had tried his 
utmost to keep the SS from meddling in the air force’s medical affairs. The Da- 
chau experiments of the SS were believed to be of no importance to the Fuft- 
waffe and the Air Ministry had certainly never been informed of any fatalities 
they had caused. In cross-examining him Denney unfortunately lost his temper 
and confused the experiments on concentration camp prisoners with the Fuft- 
waffe experiments on volunteers. When Hippke pointed out quite simply, 
‘They are two quite different categories’, Denney shrilled at him, ‘We don’t 
want any speeches from you!’ 34 Dr Bergold objected to this type of browbeating. 
(‘We are not in America, and these are German witnesses!’) Denney apologized 
and candidly attributed his outburst to high blood pressure.f 

The trial was not without its more comical aspects either. When Milch’s 
seventy-one-year-old personal assistant, Karl-Eitel Richter, arrived to give evi- 
dence he was at first mistaken for a prosecution witness, driven off by limousine 
to a luxurious apartment and prepared an ample dinner; as soon as the error 
was detected he was whisked off to an unheated cell in the prison building and 
the food remained uneaten. 35 A week later General Wolff was also in the wit- 
ness-box: Bergold had found him incarcerated in a Nuremberg lunatic asylum. 
Wolff was a strange character indeed: despite eight months’ solitary confine- 
ment he — as Himmler’s adjutant until 1943 — had volunteered to answer for 

* Brigadier- General Telford Taylor has stated to the author that he recalls enough to state with 
confidence that there was no basis for the suggestion that the prosecution was holding back on 
either Hippke or Wolff, and it must be said that apart from the incidents set out in the text no 
obstacles were put in Bergold’s way. 
f From the shorthand record of the trial. 



the SS alongside General Ernst Kaltenbrunner before the IMT. When this offer 
was turned down he had volunteered his services as a defence witness, only to 
find himself removed, as he said in evidence, to a lunatic asylum, where the 
military had locked him in one room with sixteen insane, paralytic, tubercular 
and incurably deranged patients. 

After speaking his testimony for Milch, Wolff seized his chance and asked 
the judges if they could believe he was ‘insane’. The guards attempted to re- 
move him from the courtroom, but the presiding judge replied, ‘My colleagues 
and I are ready to affirm that your bearing in the witness-box, the rapidity with 
which you responded, your excellent understanding and your ability to answer 
questions have convinced us personally that you are an intelligent and mentally 
perfectly normal human being.’ 36 Wolff could not be returned to the asylum 
after that. 

The prosecution had not neglected its own case meantime. From the shorthand 
records of the meetings of the Fighter Staff and Central Planning and — as sur- 
prise exhibits toward the end of the trial — Milch’s own Air Armament confer- 
ences, the prosecution extracted every incriminating passage that it could, be it 
a furious outburst after Hamburg, or the mention by SS General Kammler that 
thirty forced labourers had been hanged by the SS to set an example. (The de- 
fence of tu quoque was explicitly denied to defendants under the Nuremberg 
statute, but Bergold did not fail to remind the court that General Eisenhower’s 
Ordinance No. 1 had similarly provided for any German workers in occupied 
areas who refused to work to be shot.) Whether Milch had actually issued 
criminal orders, or had any powers to issue the orders attributed to him; 
whether Central Planning had any function other than allocating raw materials; 
whether these documents had been signed by, addressed to, or even seen by 
Milch — all these were points the court did not contemplate. Bergold found it 
particularly trying that he was not allowed to examine the unextracted part of 
the conference transcripts for any material that might have been helpful to the 

Yet he fought with great tenacity. To establish the legality of Milch’s ac- 
tions in relation to the ‘slave labour’ programme he reminded the court on 5 



March 1947 that Proclamation No. 2 of the Allied Control Council had empow- 
ered the Allies to deport German labour for reparations. 37 As far as Russian 
prisoners were concerned, the Soviet government had defined on 1 July 1941 
that there were no restrictions on the type of work that could be demanded of 
German prisoners. 38 Perhaps it was a measure of his success that an American 
campaign of persecution began against Milch’s defence counsel and his staff. On 
6 March Bergold’s Nuremberg home and its contents were confiscated by the 
American military authorities and placed at the court’s disposal. Bergold pro- 
tested to Judge Toms in his private room, ‘Here I am collaborating with the 
Americans, and that is the gratitude I get!’ Toms was so angry that he contacted 
the occupation authorities at once, and when they refused to rescind the order 
the judge declared (in Bergold’s presence), ‘Then I shall discontinue the trial 
and return forthwith to the United States. I shall there tell the press that de- 
fence counsel has been treated in this shameless way. I dislike this trial anyway!’ 
Bergold’s home was returned to him. 39 

Throughout this spring the field marshal’s endurance was also severely 
tested. His diary records how his liquid nourishment was almost totally re- 
moved and his cell windows were smashed; there was no heating and again 
there was no light in the evenings, until he tried to sleep, and then a spotlight 
was turned on. The table and chair had vanished long ago and these were fol- 
lowed by his mattress and blanket. (It was the American army that was respon- 
sible for this, not the judicial authorities.) Whereas in December he had been 
allowed out in the fresh air seven times (three hours all told), in January he had 
only two hours and in the whole of February, at the height of his trial, only one 
hour fifty minutes. 40 Despite this lack of exercise, Milch showed surprising re- 
silience in the witness-box. For four days he battled with grim humour against 
what he (mistakenly) saw as ‘the forces of the Old Testament’* arrayed against 
him. Bergold had adjured him to keep his temper and he succeeded well until 
he was examined by Judge Phillips about the Polish workers’ conditions in 
Germany. His temper snapped: ‘I would like to ask your Honours to accept 
that we in Germany were not all public torturers. I would say that the greater 



part of the German people were well-intentioned and treated other people 
properly.’ Then his neck went red, his eyes bulged and he shouted at the presi- 
dent, ‘Or you may think — and you are perfectly entitled to — that all Germans 
are criminals. And then you must say you are justified in simply hanging the 
lot. In which case you had better make a start with me!’ 41 Bergold sank his head 
into his hands. 

There were altogether thirty-one witnesses for the defence. The Americans had 
broadcast repeated appeals for direct evidence of Milch’s activities over the 
wireless system, but not one witness had come forward. By the time the trial 
began, they had found only three men willing to testify against the field mar- 
shal — two French labourers and a German who professed to be a qualified air- 
craft engineer, one Josef Krysiak. Taken together, their evidence gave a vivid 
impression of the cruel conditions encountered in various armaments factories. 

The emotional effect of Krysiak’s evidence moved even Milch to write 
sympathetically about him that evening as a ‘German engineer from Messer- 
schmitt’s thrown into Mauthausen concentration camp in 1940 — poor devil’. 42 
The testimony was devastating. 

krysiak: I swear by Almighty God to speak the truth, the whole 
truth and nothing but the truth. 
denney: What is your profession? 
krysiak: A qualified aircraft engineer. 
denney: And when did you terminate your studies? 
krysiak: In 1936, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. 
denney: And were you professionally employed thereafter? 
krysiak: Yes, at Fokker’s in Amsterdam and at Messerschmitt’s in 

denney: Would you tell us what happened in 1940? 
krysiak: On 9 December 1940 I was arrested for sedition against the 
armed forces and for defeatist remarks . . . and I was sent for 

* Milch’s diary. 



political re-education to the concentration camp at 
Mauthausen near Linz on the Danube.* 43 

Gradually the whole tragic story was elicited from him — how he had had to 
work for twelve hours a day in a Messerschmitt plant three hours’ drive from 
the camp, with starvation rations and frequent thrashings. In the camp four 
men had had to sleep to each bed. ‘Most of those at Mauthausen and Gusen n 
died. As a rule nobody was released and the gaps caused by these convict deaths 
were filled by new transports.’ 

Judge Musmanno himself leaned forward to ask: ‘What was your health 
like before your experiences in concentration camp?’ 

krysiak: I can only say that I am now ill in my lungs and am un- 
dergoing medical treatment. That’s what the five years cost me. 
musmanno: What was your health like before? 

krysiak: I was a sportsman and long-distance runner, so my health 
must have been good then — my lungs were perfect. 

Krysiak was the last witness to be heard before the final speeches. 

One more surprising feature became known to the defence in this case on 25 
March, the day of the closing speeches. The court asked for Bergold’s defence 
speech to be heard first. It lasted until that afternoon. Bergold regretted that he 
would have no chance to reply to the prosecution’s final speech, the practice he 
had been accustomed to. Of Denney’s final speech, which lasted a further two 
hours, Milch predictably observed that it ‘maintained all the old lies intact. Il- 
logical, confused, but diabolical.’ 44 

Today [began Denney] we close the case against a Major War 
Criminal, a leader of the slave programme, of an enormity unparal- 
leled in history and a principal instigator of crimes of murder in a 

* The reason for quoting Krysiak’s remarkable evidence will become plain in the epilogue. 



horrible masquerade of scientific progress that leaves both the world 
of medical science 45 and laymen aghast. The evidence discussed be- 
fore this tribunal has shown that Erhard Milch is particularly in- 
criminated as a leader of the forced labour programme which 
brought workers to Germany and distributed them to the various 
sectors of the German war economy and systematically extermi- 
nated them as soon as their value for science was at an end . 46 

The prosecution formally demanded the death sentence on all counts. 

When Milch himself spoke for the last time, he did so for only three min- 
utes. He made no mention of the charges laid against him but talked instead 
about his life’s work for Germany since becoming a soldier in r9io. He recalled 
how he had built up German civil aviation and promoted increased interna- 
tional understanding. In war he had done his duty in his country’s defence. 
‘My personal fate is of no consequence in this connection,’ Milch concluded. ‘I 
have only one wish — that the German people may soon be released from its 
endless suffering, and enter as an equal partner into the community of na- 
tions .’ 47 

Word of the conclusion of the trial had been noised about the prison and 
the American soldiers guarding him were impressed. By evening a can of toddy, 
chocolates and cocoa and malt, scores of cigarettes, cigars and pipes of tobacco, 
pencils and beer had found their way to his cell . 48 One American told him that 
he was now rated with Speer and Wolff among the most popular inmates of 
that grim hostelry. Another said to him in very broken German, ‘I won’t use 
truncheon or shoot if you run away.’ Milch declined to make the effort and 
sadly reflected that with men like that one could soon settle one’s differences, 
‘but the Denneys . . .’ 

Four days after the court adjourned the Chinese-American soldier as- 
signed to guard him, Private Lee, confided that he had just come off guard 
duty in the judges’ room: ‘You get two years and two months!’ This would be a 
notable sentence, for it would effectively result in Milch’s immediate release, as 
he had served that time already. Bergold heard a similar rumour from one of 
Denney’s own team — that a sentence of about two years’ imprisonment was to 



be handed down to Milch. 

Originally the verdict had been expected within about a week. Soon it was an- 
nounced, however, that judgement had been postponed. 49 On Easter Monday, 
7 April, a lieutenant warned Milch that the verdict was expected next day. That 
night they took away his belt so that he could not hang himself. 50 He ended his 
diary and dedicated it to his closest friends and relatives, but eight more days 
passed before judgement was pronounced. 

At 2 p.m. on the sixteenth the tribunal met to announce its verdict. 51 
Judge Musmanno announced at once that he was submitting a separate opin- 
ion. The tribunal then proceeded to consider the three counts of the indict- 
ment. On the second of the three counts, concerning the criminal medical ex- 
periments at Dachau, Judge Phillips announced their verdict that it was obvious 
that Milch had never been an accessory, and he was acquitted completely on 
this count. Then Musmanno read the tribunal’s finding on the first count, the 
charge that Milch was responsible for the deportation of foreign labour to 
Germany, resulting in its ‘enslavement, torture and murder’. He was found 
guilty. So far as the third count of the indictment was concerned, the court 
found no evidence that Milch was guilty of crimes against humanity, but found 
him responsible for the torture and deportation of ‘large numbers of Hungar- 
ian Jews’ and other citizens of Hungary and Romania (a difficult verdict to un- 
derstand, since these deportations were decided on long after Milch had relin- 
quished office in June 1944, and since no instance of deportation of Romanian 
labour had actually been discovered). On this last count he was therefore also 
found guilty. 

Sentence was passed next day, 17 April 1947. ‘High Court of Military Tri- 
bunal No. 11. Court is now in Session! God bless the United States of America 
and this High Court.’ Dr Werner Milch, seated with Dr Bergold, could hear 

* Brigadier-General Telford Taylor who was in court took exception to Musmanno’s theatrical 
and flamboyant reading of the judgement and afterward interviewed the judge about it. 
Musmanno acknowledged his error on this occasion and promised to keep better control of 
himself in future. On that basis he remained in Nuremberg and sat as presiding judge in a later 
case . 52 



low voices murmuring over the odds that sentence would be death by hanging. 
The court marshal banged his gavel: ‘Those present in Court Room A are re- 
quested to be silent.’ Milch was ordered to rise to his feet . 53 

Until this moment he had been handcuffed to a burly U.S. sergeant next 
to him. Private Lee, who had snapped the handcuffs on him in his cell, had 
begun weeping with emotion for some reason, and even the Prison Office ser- 
geant had apologized. In a subdued voice the court president read out the sen- 

This tribunal takes no pleasure in performing the duty which 
confronts it, but the deliberate enslavement of millions must not go 
unexpiated. The barbarous acts which have been revealed here 
originated in the lust and ambition of comparatively few men, but 
all Germans are paying and will pay for the degradation of their 
souls and the debasement of the German honour caused by follow- 
ing the false prophets who led them to disaster. It would be a trav- 
esty of justice to permit those false leaders, including this defendant, 
to escape responsibility for the deception and betrayal of their peo- 

It would be an even greater injustice to view with complacence 
the mass graves of millions of men, women and children whose only 
crime was that they stood in Hitler’s way. Retribution for such 
crimes against humanity must be swift and certain. Future would-be 
dictators and their subservient satellites must know what follows 
their defilement of international law and of every type of decency 
and fair dealing with their fellow men. Civilization will be satisfied 
with nothing less. 

Raising his voice, he pronounced, ‘It is the sentence of this tribunal that 
the defendant, Erhard Milch, be confined to the Rebdorf prison for the re- 
mainder of his natural life.’ Milch scrutinized them dispassionately. The presi- 
dent ordered, ‘The Court Marshal will remove the defendant from the court- 
room .’ 54 



The handcuffs were replaced. As Milch was marched across the prison 
yard he caught sight of General Vorwald looking out of a cell window high up 
in the wall ahead. Milch raised his arm, defiantly jerking the army sergeant’s 
arm aloft as well, as he saluted him . 55 Some of the defendants in another case — 
that against the industrialist Friedrich Flick — called out to ask the sentence. 
Milch shouted back, ‘Let off with a reprimand!’ Then he was put into Cell 
Eleven, where the rest of his life was to begin. 





April 1947-January 1972 

so, for erhard milch, two years after most people, the war was over at least. 
He had survived again. There was now hardly any risk to which he had not 
been exposed — he had crashed four aircraft, two cars and one railway locomo- 
tive. In the Second World War alone he had made over five hundred flights, 
forty of them operational in the battles for Norway and France. Now he had 
escaped a death sentence too. 

After it was all over the judges expressed sincere regrets to Milch’s counsel 
for the contemptible publications propagated by Gaston Oulman. 1 (Before the 
year was out Oulman had himself been arrested and imprisoned for repeated 
forgery of documents: he had never been in a concentration camp and he had 
forged the certificates to that effect himself.) 

The rumours of Milch’s Jewish parentage had started in the autumn of 
1933. 2 They were nourished by Milch’s own reticence on the subject, they were 
believed even by his closest friends like Udet, and they left behind a legend 
which will live on long after the field marshal’s death. The whole truth was not 
disclosed even to him until the autumn of 1933, after Goring had first men- 
tioned the rumours to him. In Nazi Germany, for a state secretary to have 
partly Jewish blood could have only one consequence. Milch could only reply 
that he had never heard talk of a Jewish strain in his family before: Anton 
Milch, who had married Klara Vetter at the end of the 1880s, had been, as we 



have seen, a naval apothecary; and if in turn Anton’s father had admittedly 
been called Benno, that was a normal Catholic name at the time. 3 But the evi- 
dence against Milch could not be overlooked; the allegation was backed up with 
a dossier including photographs of a tombstone in a Jewish graveyard in 
Breslau, bearing the one word ‘Milch’. 4 

An investigation was immediately carried out. The unwholesome truth 
the authorities shortly uncovered was the cruellest blow that any man could 
have expected. In one sense there was relief, for Milch’s father was unquestiona- 
bly Aryan; but that was not all, for he was not Anton Milch, and he was not a 
man whom the Church would ever have accepted as Klara Vetter’s husband. So 
awful were the implications that Erhard Milch knew that this one fact about his 
parentage could never be revealed. He concealed it from the author, and when 
the truth nevertheless emerged from the family papers he asked that the con- 
fidence should be respected about his father’s identity. All his life Milch had 
longed for a father. Anton Milch he had scarcely known. Now the tragedy was 
complete, for at nearly forty years of age he had identified his real father, a man 
he had known and admired like no other as a boy, but a man already dead for a 
quarter of a century. 

Soon Milch had in his hands a document which dispelled any last doubts 
that might have lingered in his mind, a letter his mother had written six 
months before (in March 1933) to her son-in-law, whose career had also been 
threatened by the rumours. 5 Four pages long, the letter responded to his appeal 
that she should set out in writing the truth about her marriage. Briefly summa- 
rized, it was that her parents had decided that she should marry an apparently 
orphaned naval apothecary, Anton Milch; she however was consumed with 
illicit love for another man, who wanted to marry her — a union which would 
have been disallowed by the Church but not illegal in those days. Her mother 
and father had insisted that the wedding to Anton, humble and unloved, 
should go ahead. Her unhappiness had changed to horror when she learned by 
chance that Anton’s mother was in fact still alive, but incurably insane in an 
asylum. Klara vowed that she would never bear his children. In distraction, 
Anton had pleaded with her and out of pity she consented to the marriage on 
condition that all their children should be by her heart’s true desire, the man 



whom Goring’s investigation had identified. Thus the unique combination had 
come about, to the contentment of all parties. 

On 7 October 1933 the then state secretary drove up to Kiel for one last 
meeting with Anton Milch, still alive but with not many months to live. A more 
poignant occasion can scarcely be imagined. Anton dictated to him a two-page 
statement, admitting everything Erhard had now found out. 6 He signed the 
document at its foot. He had no children of his own and before he died he dis- 
inherited the four who had been born to him by his wife. Thus the matter was 
finally settled. Apart from Goring, who never revealed the truth — which no 
man knowing it could ever forget — only a few people were informed. The let- 
ter of Milch’s mother and Anton’s confession were produced to Hitler, and on 1 
November Milch recorded in his diary, ‘Afternoon: Goring has spoken with 
Hitler, von Blomberg and Hess about my parentage.’ A few hours later he 
added the telling phrase, ‘Everything in order.’ 7 

Yet the long-drawn-out agony of indignity was to continue much longer, 
inflicted first by his fellow Germans and then by his captors at Nuremberg, to 
whom his ‘Jewish’ background and his subsequent ‘clean billing’ by Goring were 
anathema. His mother was still alive: Milch could only bite his lip and contain 
the truth within himself. We have seen how the American prosecutor Jackson 
bluntly challenged Milch upon this point; and Dr Robert Kempner, his assis- 
tant, continued to work this haemophiliac wound in the interrogations over the 
years that followed. From Milch’s diary we can sense his agony of mind: 
‘Kempner grills me about father (A.M.) and mother ... I turned it all over in 
my mind, then answered in line with my original official papers. Should I have 
disclosed the truth, shameful as it is, about C — to him? But now Kempner will 
exploit all this,’ he wrote in frustration. ‘It makes me sick!’ 8 

From the autumn of 1933 onward there had been one thing of which he 
was now certain: he could expect to advance no further if he admitted the truth 
about his parentage. It would have been unthinkable under the rigid Prussian 
code of ethics for a minister or a commander-in-chief to have a concealed his- 
tory like his. 9 

As Milch’s life sentence now began, members of Denney’s own prosecu- 



tion team privately urged Dr Bergold to lodge an appeal with the U.S. Supreme 
Court, a course which no other German lawyer had yet considered. On 2 May 
Bergold did indeed petition the military governor either to quash the sentence 
as illegal under the Geneva Convention or to reduce it as certain findings had 
not been supported by the evidence. 10 At the same time Bergold petitioned the 
U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the legality of Military Tribunal 11, and ap- 
plying for a writ of habeas corpus . 11 As to the first petition, the U.S. deputy 
military governor, Major-General Frank A. Keating, upheld the tribunal’s 
findings. 12 As to the second, Keating forwarded it to Washington with a rec- 
ommendation that the application should be rejected. 

The device used by Dr Bergold in applying for a writ of habeas corpus 
had been overlooked by the planners of the Nuremberg statute, and the peti- 
tion could not be prevented from going all the way to Washington. In the 
American capital it nearly succeeded: it reached the very doors of the Supreme 
Court, but by four votes to four the court ruled that it was unable to hear it 
(Justice Jackson very properly abstained from voting). 13 Subsequently Bergold 
appealed to the Swiss government as the protecting power about what he al- 
leged were the American violations of the Geneva Convention in putting Milch 
on trial. In reply the Swiss government disclosed that the United States had 
withdrawn their recognition of Switzerland as the protecting power in early 
1945 (Britain and Canada had not). This did not, in their view, lessen the force 
of the Hague Treaty of r907 or the Geneva Convention concerned, but there 
was nothing they were prepared to do about it. 14 

All this time people like Professor Messerschmitt and Dr Heinkel, who 
were — as the documents indicate — personally responsible for the employment 
of concentration camp prisoners in their factories, were free, as was indeed 
Karl-Otto Saur, Milch’s joint chief in the Fighter Staff. 

For the first three months of his sentence the field marshal was imprisoned with 
the seven major war criminals who had survived the first trial. He passed the 
time in long private talks with Speer, Hess and the others, who were not to leave 
Spandau for many years to come. Milch was an accurate observer and a consci- 
entious recorder of detail and the diaries he kept thus have a certain interest. 



Rudolf Hess appeared to be the only one left with any faith in National 
Socialism. All the others had recanted to a greater or lesser degree. He was evi- 
dently writing a book: a typewriter clattered constantly in his cell, and from 
time to time he would emerge to grill Milch and Speer on the details of the im- 
portant weapons-project failures, like the four-engined Ju 89 stopped by 
Goring in 1937. He evidently considered these responsible for the German de- 

I told him that all these were just minutiae, and not the decisive 
factors. We were defeated because Hitler went to war after only four 
or five years’ rearmament, with no rising class of military leaders. I 
said the same was true of the civil sector: the conflict between the 
state and party, and the disorganization that this caused. And on 
top of that virtually useless people acting as administrators — 
gauleiters, district leaders and the like. 15 

It was one of a number of somewhat brittle conversations conducted in an 
atmosphere of forced politeness; Speer often found some excuse to leave the 
discussions early on. He told Milch privately that he thought that Hess was 
trying to prove that Hitler and National Socialism had been let down by the 
incompetence of the lesser leaders. Milch could see that not only was Hess’s 
faith in Hitler unshattered, he had a growing belief in his own National Socialist 
mission. 16 In June 1947 the erstwhile deputy Fuhrer stunned him with a remark 
that he was ‘trying to find a better name for the Ministry of Propaganda’. 17 ‘He 
is a strange man,’ concluded Milch, ‘partly intelligent, partly very mixed-up, 
but such a fanatic and ascetic that it is not possible to regard him as completely 
sane.’ And after he saw him for the last time, ‘He has donned the mantle of a 
martyr and sees every occurrence only as an act of spite against his person.’ 18 

The field marshal’s relations with Grand-Admiral Raeder, now seventy- 
two years old, were at first strained. Both had attended Hitler’s secret speech of 
23 May 1939, but when Milch had asked him in February 1947 to testify to its 
true nature, which was very different from what Hitler’s adjutant had re- 
corded, the admiral sent word back to Bergold that ‘if I have come a cropper 



and been convicted I see no reason why the others should not suffer too’. 19 
Later he had said of Milch, ‘I can’t abide the fellow!’ But now that the ordeal of 
both was over, a belated friendship sprang up between Milch and the reserved 
and charmless admiral. Raeder now confirmed what Milch had remembered of 
Hitler’s 1939 speech to them and pointed out that, had the Fiihrer at that time 
stated his firm intention of declaring war, the navy would have entered the 
hostilities far better prepared than it did. 20 

It was Albert Speer who still fascinated Milch: he regarded him with a mixture 
of envy, loyalty, amusement, cynicism and admiration. ‘Speer thinks nothing of 
soldiers. After all, he himself never served. Strongly egocentric — particularly 
interested to know what the Yanks and Germans think of him. Still has the same 
old ambitions — very outspoken against Goring, Keitel and Saur. His memory 
only good in parts.’ 21 By his own account the minister had lived through many 
dramatic events, sometimes as observer, sometimes as conspirator. Of the last 
days in Berlin Speer described how Hitler had planned his suicide: 

Hitler really wanted to stay alive and remain in Berlin until he had 
organized the resistance. This latter intention he, Speer, foils by 
persuading Colonel-General Heinrici and his chief of staff [Colonel] 

Kinzel to abandon Berlin. Only in this way can Speer prevent the 
large-scale demolition of Berlin’s bridges and industry as ordered by 
Hitler in the event of a battle. The OKW detects this sabotage at- 
tempt, and Hitler sends Keitel and Jodi out of Berlin. They dismiss 
Heinrici, but cannot undo what has been done. Only at Nuremberg 
do Keitel and Jodi learn that Speer was the spiritus rector. 

To this Milch added, ‘Well, well!’ 22 

The field marshal also maintained a healthy scepticism about Speer’s claim 
to have planned to assassinate Hitler, and he questioned him privately about 
this on at least three occasions. Speer’s account grew more detailed with each 



About the middle of February 1945, he [Speer] plans to 
infiltrate a new poison gas, capable of penetrating any filter, into 
Hitler’s bunker at the Reich Chancery, by means of the ventilation 
shaft. In the evenings there are usually only Hitler, Bormann and 
Goebbels down there in the bunker. Speer intends to procure the 
gas from Stahl, of the Main Munitions Committee. The idea fails for 
three reasons: the chemicals have to be activated by an explosion, 
impossible in the air intake duct; secondly, on Hitler’s orders the 
intake duct has suddenly been bricked up to a height of ten feet, 
and thirdly the garden round the shaft is patrolled by several sen- 
tries. He does not want to run any personal risk. Thus he toys with 
the idea in his mind until the end of March — now for, and now 
against. Then he goes to the Ruhr on about 23 or 24 March 1945, 
where he talks, unrecognized, to an elderly miner who displays a 
childlike faith in the Fiihrer. Whereupon, says Speer, he gives up 
his assassination idea! 

He was asked about it during the trials by Lawrence and Jack- 
son. The ‘plot’ has been of the utmost value to him. Jackson has let 
him know that he is the only defendant he respects.* 23 

Milch purposely avoided discussing with Speer his repeated claims to 
have increased aircraft output after the field marshal’s resignation. (‘What’s the 
point of bickering — it’s all over and done with!’) 24 

After the lorries finally rolled out of Nuremberg Prison, carrying Speer and his 
fellow prisoners away to Spandau in Berlin, Milch put down on paper his pri- 
vate assessment of his former colleague: 

Of the younger ones, his is the most marked personality — highly 
intelligent, artistic in temperament and ambitious to the point of 

* Jackson’s respect for Speer also speaks loudly from his private papers: given a choice as to 
which defendant he would have acquitted, he wrote in a memoir he would have acquitted Speer. 



power-hunger; knows what he wants and what his worth is. Tem- 
peramental, well suited for higher office with the reservation that he 
frequently displays poor judgement of character. Very accommo- 
dating, but at times also abrupt. Always unpredictable. Sometimes 
belligerent, sometimes peaceable. Usually opposed to the general 
trend and whatever one would normally expect. Personally coura- 
geous, and intercedes for others without thought of his own safety. 
Desires publicity, as he suffers from a certain vanity . . . Germany 
could make better use of him elsewhere, even today. 25 

Finally there was Walther Funk, the flabby, homosexual former Econom- 
ics Minister. Like Hess he was a sick man and every personal attack wounded 
him deeply. When the German press announced that ‘45,000 bottles of wine 
and several hundredweight of flour’ had been found hidden in his home — a 
total invention, of the kind which found ready credence in post-war Germany 
— he flew into an impotent rage which repelled Milch. 26 Funk’s sensitive nerves 
had worse to suffer next day: SS General Pohl, on trial for his life, confessed 
that he had sworn his affidavit against Funk (which had figured prominently in 
the evidence before the IMT) only after considerable maltreatment. * 

A few weeks later, early in September 1947, it was Milch’s nerves that suffered. It 
was unexpectedly discovered during the Pohl trial that Josef Krysiak, the sole 
German witness produced by the American prosecution in the case against 
Milch, was a perjurer of astounding audacity and a convict with a criminal re- 
cord. 27 He had never been inside a concentration camp in his life, let alone 
worked for Messerschmitt’s or in the aircraft industry. Yet this was clearly the 
witness who had made most impression on Judge Musmanno; altogether fifty- 
six lines of his written opinion were devoted to the harrowing, but entirely 
fictitious, evidence of this thirty-six-year-old German: 

* Full details are in the shorthand record of Case iv, USA v. Oswald Pohl et al. 



In contrast to the idyllic picture of harmony in an explosives 
factory or of ‘Strength through Joy’ at Nuremberg, one recalls the 
picture of the final witness in this trial to one’s memory: he too was 
a German. He too worked in a war factory. In December 1940 he 
commented in a conversation with friends that Germany could not 
win the war if America entered the European conflict. The Gestapo 
learned of this remark and he was put into a concentration camp 

The collapse of this man’s health is perhaps only a fraction of 
the real damage he has suffered. In the witness box he gave the im- 
pression of a man broken by the hell of these five years. His voice 
trembled, his shoulders dropped, his looks were far away. He was 
alive, and there was something in him that had already died. Per- 
haps he was musing on the real tragedy — that all these horrors had 
been inflicted upon him by his fellow-countrymen, not because he 
had turned against his own country, but because he had spoken the 
truth, which — had it been heeded — could have prevented not 
only his misfortune but also the ruination of millions of his broth- 

The Americans tried to introduce Krysiak again as their witness during 
the Pohl case. Dr Georg Froschmann, a colleague of Dr Bergold, established 
from the civil police records that Krysiak had a long criminal record, starting at 
the age of nineteen, with twelve convictions for repeated fraud, begging, illegal 
frontier-crossing, illegally wearing a uniform to perpetrate marriage frauds on 
rich widows, embezzlement and forgery. In October 1941 the regular criminal 
courts had sentenced him to death as a habitual criminal, though the sentence 
was later commuted to ten years’ penal servitude. 28 In his evidence in the Milch 
case he had perjured himself from one end to the other. Yet despite his back- 
ground the Americans had made this creature an official ‘property trustee’ after 
the Milch case, working in their Property Control Division. Here he reverted to 
form, for within eighteen months he was back in prison on two counts of em- 
bezzlement, the fraudulent use of an academic degree and forgery. 29 Bergold 



and Froschmann both appealed to the tribunals to convict Krysiak for perjury, 
but in August 1948 Judge Toms finally ruled that perjury was not an offence 
under international law, so they had no jurisdiction. 

Milch remained in Landsberg Prison, watching the constant flow of prisoners, 
some less fortunate than he, with the red jackets that marked them out as ‘can- 
didates’ for the hangman. His bitterness turned to stoicism. He learned car- 
pentry and glazing. (He jokingly told a visitor that Landsberg was the only jail 
that could boast about its priceless ‘Milchglas’.*) Early in r95i the Allies reduced 
his life sentence to fifteen years and he was released on parole after serving two- 
thirds of this sentence, in mid-1955. 30 Much in the world outside had changed, 
but much was the same as ever. A new Lufthansa airline had been founded and 
a new German air force under General Josef Kammhuber was in its infancy. 
Once again Milch was the outsider, but this time there could be no return: he 
had been stripped of all his possessions and was forbidden under the terms of 
his parole to meet his wartime colleagues and friends. The memory of Milch 
faded from the public mind. 

Industry — the Fiat aviation division and the Thyssen steel combine — did 
not forget him and employed him almost to the end as an adviser. He lived 
with relations in Diisseldorf until illness carried him to hospital at the end of 
1971. On 30 December his field marshal’s baton, which had been taken from him 
in r945 and been purchased after many wanderings by a Scottish family in 
memory of three sons they had lost in the RAF in the war, was returned by 
their generosity to Germany, and formally handed back to Milch in a small 
ceremony by a Bundeswehr general at his bedside. When he died not long after, 
the newspapers published the announcement with the words he had requested: 
‘Erhard Milch, Field Marshal: born 30 March 1892, died 25 January 1972, signs 
over and out.’ It was characteristic of him to use the same phrase that the Luft- 
waffe unit, trapped inside Stalingrad, had signalled to him as the enemy broke 
down the door twenty- nine years before. 

* An expensive opalescent glass. 



The tragedy of the German air force was wrought by the three men who had 
ruled its fortunes — Goring who had fathered it, Milch who had created it, and 
Hitler who used it. Its ultimate defeat cannot be attributed to any insuperable 
disadvantage in materials or resources. (Even the oil shortage which reduced 
the hours of flying training and finally grounded the operational squadrons 
themselves would not have become crucial had the energetic defensive measures 
of 1944 been adopted two years before, as Milch had recommended.) The prin- 
cipal cause of its defeat was its unreadiness and the high-level conflicts over how 
it should be committed to battle: the blade that destroyed the Polish and French 
air forces was still too brittle to survive the exhausting conflict that lay ahead, 
and was shattered in its turn. 

Of its two principal officers, Goring was characterized by a pathological 
vanity and hunger for power, while his deputy Milch was motivated by a more 
congenial alchemy of personal ambition and deep-rooted nationalism. Between 
them reigned an endless, alternating cycle of Hassliebe — Milch refusing to rec- 
ognize his minister’s qualities, Goring reluctant to trust his state secretary fur- 
ther than he could throw him. Of the two, Goring may in some respects be 
considered the more attractive personality: he possessed undoubted personal 
authority, indeed he was a lion among lambs. Before the war his reputation 
among foreign diplomats was enviable and his attributes were sufficient to cloud 
his faults. He knew how to inspire great deeds in his men: the dogged bravery 
of the Luftwaffe crews in the Battle of Britain, as indeed at Stalingrad, testify to 
that. He was a hard worker, though only in spasms, and was defeated by the 
sheer multiplicity of his offices. He would work for a long stretch in the capital, 
then tire suddenly and depart for Italy, France or the Netherlands, however 
real the crisis he left behind. Small wonder that he mistrusted the more consis- 
tently able officers of the Luftwaffe command — men like Milch, Roller and von 
Greim — and contrived to keep them far from Hitler’s headquarters. 

In his personal life, Goring was contentedly married, a mark of personal 
stability which cannot be overlooked; but unlike Milch, Goring was not a man 
of vision, as is shown by his ready abandonment in peacetime of Milch’s ten- 
year plan for the creation of a well- exercised and -staffed strategic air force in 



favour of rapid armament in breadth, and by his reluctance to invest in the 
defence of the Reich in wartime. In this Goring ignored a basic tenet of strategy 

— that the home base from which all operations are launched must be defended 
first and foremost. 

By 1942 at the latest, the provision of adequate air defences for the Reich 
should have found first priority. The truth was that the Reichsmarschall lacked 
the courage to represent this to Hitler; he was possessed of great moral and 
physical courage at other times, but was awestruck in Hitler’s presence. This 
weakness was a major factor in the over-extension and defeat of the Luftwaffe. 
Another contributory element was Goring’s uncertain judgement of character 

— how else could he have appointed officers like Udet, Loerzer, Kreipe and a 
host of others to the positions that they held? 

It must be added here that Milch’s judgement was not flawless either. His 
unconcealed prejudices against able officers like Kesselring (and even Jeschon- 
nek) and his ready acceptance of indolent and harmful commanders like Sper- 
rle testify to this. Nevertheless, Goring’s initial choice of Milch — insensitive, 
ruthless but outstandingly capable as an organizer — was one that he cannot 
have regretted. In other circumstances history would probably have ranked 
Milch with Lord Brabazon, Juan Trippe and other great airline pioneers as the 
promoter of flying without fear. Even now history should still compare him 
with Mr Robert S. McNamara, as the civilian manager of a large commercial 
undertaking suddenly plunged into a world of military strategy and high poli- 

For the first years after 1933 it is difficult to fault Milch’s administration, 
although it was increasingly circumscribed by the jealous actions of his master. 
No regime could have picked a better architect for its air power. When he be- 
gan there was virtually nothing. Out of these small beginnings he created by 
1940 the biggest air force in the world. Even in war his achievement was unde- 
niable: faced with the diminishing resources of a blockaded nation at war, and 
by annihilating air attacks, he more than trebled aircraft production between 
i94r and r944. 

Yet as much as the Luftwaffe was Milch’s creation, the field marshal was 
himself a product of the Nazi era: he adapted his language and adopted its 



methods. His enemies began to outnumber his friends. In later years he ruled 
the ministry by bluster and fear, by threats of courts martial and firing squad. 
Though the threats were never carried out, the court martials ordered were 
profuse, and when Speer took over in r944 he had to declare a general amnesty 
and stop all the proceedings Milch had initiated. Milch argued to the end that 
to combat the mass destruction and terrorizing of the Reich, ruthless measures 
alone would suffice; without them, it was impossible to stamp out despondency 
and defeatism. At the same time Milch showed great positive virtues. Among 
them were his outstanding loyalty toward his friends (evidenced above all by his 
refusal to undermine Speer’s early position) and his buoyant optimism in spite 
of the most catastrophic situations. 

From the time of Udet’s death in November i94r Milch alone championed 
the need to defend German air-space above all else. This was a realization that 
dawned on Hitler and Goring only later, in r944. By then Milch had given up 
the unequal struggle, and had engineered his way out of the war using the 
Fighter Staff as his bridge. 

History will hold against him many matters, which are not all identical 
with those counts on which he was formally found guilty. He must have recog- 
nized that the Hitler of r943 was different from the Messiah he had seen ten 
years before, a dictator irrevocably committed to the domination of territories 
to which Germany had not even the pretence of a legal claim; yet from this man 
Hitler flowed his own rank and his authority. When he ‘thanked God’ for the 
Fiihrer’s escape from the assassin’s bomb in July r944 he really meant it. For 
Milch too there was no going back, and he shut his eyes to what was happening 
about him. He had exulted in the splendours of the Nazi rise; he had marched 
next to Hitler in Munich, he had taken the salute in Vienna, he had banqueted 
in Berlin. That he suffered also in the decline and fall cannot entirely have sur- 
prised him. 




Primary Sources 

The material used in this biography has primarily been quarried from the un- 
published private and official records kept by Erhard Milch. Since the material 
will prove a blessing to future historians, this author has taken the trouble, 
while preparing the book, of assembling the documents in sequence and mi- 
crofilming them, as a collection complementary to the microfilms of Milch 
documents recently produced by the Imperial War Museum’s Foreign Docu- 
ments Centre in London. A set of this author’s microfilms has been donated to 
the Centre, and to the Militargeschichtliches Forschungsamt in Freiburg, West 
Germany, with the consent of the field marshal. These personal papers are cited 
in the notes as ‘MPP’. 

Milch’s personal papers include about five thousand pages of diaries and 
notebooks, which vary considerably in content from r9ro to r950. From the First 
World War until r923 the diaries are wordy and intact; as his offices expanded, 
Milch compiled two diaries — a vest-pocket version which has survived com- 
plete, and a more bulky book of which latter all but a few were looted by Allied 
troops in r945 and must be presumed lost. The most important texts of the dia- 
ries have been transcribed by this author and can be found on his microfilm, 
DJ-59, together with selected items of his correspondence. The diaries them- 
selves are microfilmed throughout on microfilms DJ-54, 55, 56, 57, 58a and 58b. 
The personal papers also included a number of studies, including a manuscript 
autobiography, which are listed in Section 2 below. 

The sixty thousand pages of captured Milch documents (cited as ‘MD’) 
previously held by the Air Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence, London, 
were temporarily transferred to the Imperial War Museum, London, and they 
were microfilmed throughout by the museum before the original files were res- 
tituted to the Bundesarchiv, Germany. 

Considerable use was made of this collection, for which this author is in- 
debted to Dr Leo Kahn and his assistant Miss Angela Raspin of the Foreign 



Documents Centre at the museum. Among the fifty thousand pages of the 
documents are the stenographic minutes of the General-Luftzeugmeister con- 
ferences (Office of Air Armament), bound in volumes numbered 13 to 41; of the 
night-fighter development conferences (vol. 43); of flak conferences (vol. 42); 
of Central Planning conferences (vols. 46-49); Fighter Staff conferences (vols. 
1-8); and Armaments Staff conferences (vol. 9). Indispensable to historians are 
the records of conferences presided over by Goring, frequently taken down 
verbatim (vols. 62-65), cited in the following notes as GL, Night-Fighter, Flak, 
Central-Planning, Fighter-Staff or Goring conf respectively. Where possible 
precise volume and page numbers are given (MD:62, p. 5242). Many of the 
captured foreign documents (‘FD’) cited have also been microfilmed by the 
museum. This author has prepared a 200-page index as a somewhat primitive 
tool with which to garden in this formidable acreage of conference reports. The 
remaining volumes of the Milch documents, which contain Milch’s and Udet’s 
correspondence and memoranda, are adequately catalogued in the Air Minis- 
try’s report ADI(K) No. 4143/1945: ‘Files belonging to General-Feldmarschall 
Milch’. It remains a source of regret that in accordance with official policy the 
Ministry of Defence was unable to grant access to the postwar British interroga- 
tions of Milch as a prisoner, of which ADI(K) No. 333/1945, a complete survey 
of the production situation, would seem one of the most important. The Cabi- 
net Office was similarly unable to open reports by the CSDIC, numbered SRGG 
125(C), 1313(C), 1323(C) and 1324(C), on Milch’s conversations in custody, but 
these were partly obtained from non-British sources. As usual, the United States 
archival authorities proved exceptionally cooperative, with the signal exception 
of the USAF Historical Division at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Through 
the courtesy of the National Archives in Washington the author obtained im- 
portant additional material in the form of OSS reports, USFET and State De- 
partment interrogation reports, and the complete files of pre-trial interrogation 
records on Milch, Goring and numerous other defendants and witnesses at 

The Milch diary is cited in the notes simply as ‘diary’; diaries of others are 
identified thus: ‘Jodi diary’. A name followed by a month (‘Prof Telford Taylor, 
Oct 1969’) indicates a source interviewed by the author. The German transcript 



of the American war crimes trial of Milch is cited as Milch Case Hearings or 

MCH. The various Nuremberg trial documents are identified by number 
(ND: 3 43-PS). 

Published and Unpublished Works 

air ministry: The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London, 1949). This 
official monograph, based on interrogations and captured documents, was 
kept restricted for far too long, and is now available in a pirated American 

: Intelligence report: The History of German Night-Fighting (ADI[K] 

Report No. 416/1945 of 8 December 1945). 

: Intelligence report: The Career of Generalfeldmarschall Milch (ADI[K] 

Report No. 360/1945). 

: Intelligence report: Personalities in the German Aircraft Industry 

(ADI[K] Report No. 304A/1945). 

: Intelligence report: Files Belonging to Generalfeldmarschall Milch 

(ADI[K] Report No. 414A/1945). A 40-page catalogue of the volumes re- 
cently held in the Imperial War Museum, London. 

albrecht, admiral conrad: diary, part published in Vierteljahreshefte fur 
Zeitgeschichte ( VfZ ), 1968, p. 148 et seq. 

baumbach, werner: Broken Swastika (London, i960). An early attempt at 
exploiting the Luftwaffe records, marred by persistent errors of fact and 

baur, hans: Ich flog Machtige der Erde (Kempten, i960). A disappointing biog- 
raphy, in view of the high vantage-point occupied by its author as Hitler’s 
pilot and confidant. 

bekker, cajus: Angriffshohe 4000 (Oldenburg, 1964). This contains useful ap- 
pendices, especially no. 12, a 1954 statement by Kesselring on the heavy- 
bomber controversy. 

bewlay, Charles: Hermann Goring (Gottingen, 1956). This biography is stated 
by Goring’s intimates (Bodenschatz et al.) to be the one work to do the 
Reichsmarschall justice. 

blunck, richard: Hugo Junkers, der Mensch und das Werk (Berlin, 1942). 



boelcke, willi a.: Deutschlands Rustung im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt am 
Main, 1969). This prints the principal entries in the minutes of the confer- 
ences between Hitler and Speer or Saur, 1942-5, with a useful commentary. 

bross, werner: Gesprdche mit Hermann Goring (Flensburg, 1950). Notes taken 
by one of Goring’s defence counsel during their private consultations; 
authentic and revealing. 

brustat-naval, capt. fritz: Untemehmung Rettung-Letztes, Schiff nach 
Westen (Kohlers Verlagsgesellschaft, 1970). The tragic events off Neustadt 
in May 1945. 

collier, basil: The Defence of the United Kingdom (HMSO, London, 1957). 
The official history; accurate in detail but lacking in magnanimity toward a 
defeated enemy. 

caidin, martin: Black Thursday (New York, i960). The American attacks on 
Schweinfurt; the style does not commend itself, but the author secures 
some useful material from official sources. 

deichmann, general paul: unpublished study, Why did Germany have no 
four-engined bomber in the Second World War? (Archives of Militar- 
geschichtliches Forschungsamt, Freiburg, MGFA). 

Documents on British Foreign Policy, Third Series (HMSO, London, 1950 et 

Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945, Series D (HMSO, London, 

eberhard, wolf: unpublished diaries and notebooks from his service as adju- 
tant of Keitel (Chief of the OKW), 1936-1939; in the sole possession of the 

engel, lieut. -general gerhard: unpublished notes, 1938-1943, to be pub- 
lished by the Institut fiir Zeitgeschichte (IfZ), Munich. The diaries, of 
somewhat problematic source value, were maintained by Engel as Hitler’s 
army adjutant. 

eyermann, karl-heinz: Der grosse Bluff (East Berlin, 1963). Based on docu- 
ments in East German archives not generally available from western 
sources, the book contains useful material if the obvious political line is 



fiebig, general martin: unpublished diaries, 1942-1943. Fiebig commanded 
the Eighth Air Corps under von Richthofen at Stalingrad. 

fischer, lieut. -colonel johannes: historical paper on The Decision to Sup- 
ply Stalingrad by Air, published in Militarwissenschaftliche Mitteilungen, 
No. 2, 1969. By far the most authoritative study, even if the final conclu- 
sions do rest heavily on the slightly questionable Engel diary of November 

fuhrer's diplomatic conversations, 1939-1944: recorded by Dr Paul 
Schmidt, Walther Hewet et al., in the German Foreign Office political ar- 

headquarters: war diary of, August 1939-July 1942, unpublished. 

secretary (Martin Bormann): diary notes, January 1934-June 1943, un- 

speeches: certain selected speeches, published as Es spricht der Fiihrer, by 

Hildegard von Kotze (Giitersloh, 1966). 

table talk, published by Henry Picker as Hitlers Tischgesprdche (Stutt- 
gart, 1963). 

war conferences, published by Helmut Heiber as Hitlers Lagebespre- 

chungen (Stuttgart, 1962). 

foreign documents, FD.3049/49: files of Karl-Otto Saur, including original 
Fiihrer decrees and interrogations of Saur. 

, fd. 2690/45: Speer’s files. 

, fd. 4355/45: several folders of Prof. Messerschmitt’s personal papers, 

memoranda, letters, records of works conferences and his meetings with 

, fd. 4439/45: a German Air Ministry report on the reasons for increased 

aircraft production March to June 1944, establishing that Speer had previ- 
ously put obstacles in Milch’s way. 

, fd. 4829/45: Udet’s file on production and supply figures for the air- 
craft industry, 1933 onward. 

, fd. 4921/45: results of air attacks on Messerschmitt’s. 

, fd. 4924/ 45: some official papers of Fritz Seiler, a former Messerschmitt 




, fd. 4940/45: a similar file on aircraft production figures. 

, fd. 5444/45: a file of General Georg Thomas’s memoranda. 

, FD.5454a/45: a further file from Thomas’s branch. 

, FD.55r5/45: a file of Heinrich Koppenberg, relating to Junkers 88 and 

aluminium production efforts. 

galland, adolf: The First and the Last (London, 1953) . Like Baumbach’s book, 
this frequently-cited work is marred by crude errors of date and detail, of- 
ten erring by many months. 

goebbels, josef: diaries, 1941-1943. The author has relied on the original 
typescripts, which are very much more voluminous than the selection 
published by Louis P. Lochner (London, 1948). Lochner performed his 
editing task on the sections available to him at the time with remarkable 
objectivity and perspective, but many unpublished sections including the 
years 1928 to 1941 have since come to light. 

greiner, Helmut: Die Oberste Wehrmachtfuhrung 1939-1943 (Wiesbaden, 

: The campaigns against the Western Powers and in the North (U.S. 

foreign military studies, manuscript C-o65d). 

gritzbach, erich: Hermann Goring, Werk und Mensch (Munich, 1940). A 
colourful biography based on sources no longer available, but spoilt by 
hero-worship and plain untruths. 

halder, general franz: diaries, published as Kriegstagebuch, by Hans-Adolf 
Jacobsen (Stuttgart, 1962). 

von hammerstein, baron Christian: Mein Leben, privately printed memoirs 
of the chief of the German Air Ministry legal branch (IfZ). 

heinkel, dr ernst: Sturmisches Leben (Stuttgart, 1953), edited by Jurgen 
Thorwald. The memoirs are somewhat more moderate toward Milch than 
the serialization which appeared in Quick during 1953. 

von hassell, ulrich: diaries, published as Vom anderen Deutschland 
(Frankfurt am Main, 1964). Hassell was unusually well-informed for a man 
technically in retirement, although his sources were very occasionally more 
fanciful than factual. 

hubner, general gerbert: study, The Engineer Problem in the Luftwaffe 



1933-1945 (in MGFA archives). 

: study, The Actual Sequence of Requirements, Planning and Aircraft 

Selection for the Luftwaffe (ibid.). 

homze, edward l.: Foreign Labour in Nazi Germany (Princeton University, 
1967). A well-documented account of the strained relationship between 
Speer, Sauckel and Milch. 

jansen, gregor: Das Ministerium Speer (Berlin, 1968). 

jodl, general Alfred: diaries, 1937-1945. Fragmentary diaries and notebooks 
survived the war, published apparently at random in the Nuremberg vol- 
umes, while other important sections (like those in 1781-PS) were ignored, 
and the section covering 1943-1945 was not even registered as a Nuremberg 
document, resulting in the almost total ignorance of historians today of 
their existence. The best transcript is that embodied by General Warlimont 
in his commentary on them in U.S. foreign military studies, Manuscript P- 
215, but even that omits some sections. 

kesselring, field marshal albert: Soldat bis zum letzten Tag (Bonn, 1953). 
A meticulous autobiography, clearly pulling its punches in its loyal refer- 
ences to Milch. 

klein, burton h.: Germany’s Economic Preparations for War (Harvard Univ. 
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1959). 

koeppen, dr werner: unpublished series of lengthy memoranda on Hitler’s 
conferences and table-talk from September to November 1941. The bulk of 
these — not unlike the Picker and Heim notes on Hitler’s table talk — were 
destroyed at Rosenberg’s headquarters, but these surviving 28 reports have 
so far eluded the scrutiny of historians. 

roller, general karl: unpublished papers of, 1941-1945. A collection of dia- 
ries, daily reports, and memoranda of Roller as deputy CAS and then CAS; 
of particular interest is the transcript therein of Goring’s speech of 25 No- 
vember 1944; in the author’s possession. 

: his official reports and studies can also be found on National Archives 

microfilm T-321, roll 10, for the period 1943-1944. 

koppenberg, dr heinrich: The Development of [Junkers Works] Dessau 
during 1934; an unpublished report of January 1935. 



kreipe, general werner: unpublished diaries, 1944. Revealing entries by the 
Chief of Air Staff highlighting Goring’s declining influence at the Fiihrer’s 
headquarters, and the personalities in the Luftwaffe. 
lichte, dr august: The political persecution of Prof. Hugo Junkers by the 
Nazi Regime; an unpublished study by the official historian of the postwar 
Junkers company. 

and Fritz Bottger: The Development of Aircraft Jet Engines by Junkers 

Research; paper dated 1 August 1963. 

liebmann, lieut. -general curt: unpublished memoranda on Hitler’s and 
Blomberg’s principal speeches and conferences from 1933 on; IfZ file ED.i. 

: account of events of 1938 and 1939, written down in November 1939 


linge, heinz: diaries kept by him, unpublished, from March 1943 to February 
1945, recording minute details of Hitler’s daily appointments. 
meinck, gerhard: Hitler und die deutsche Aufriistung 1933-1937 (Wiesbaden, 
1959). A reliable dissertation on the period, based on primary sources. 
milch, field marshal erhard: unpublished study, Aerial Reconnaissance, 21 
February 1920. 

: study, Struggle for Air Supremacy, 24 February 1920. 

: lecture, Technical Developments in Aviation (Essen, 24 May 1928). 

: article, Technical Problems of Lufthansa; published in Nachrichtenblatt 

des Reichsverbandes der Deutschen Luftfahrtindustrie, Berlin, 23 April 1928. 

: study, Thoughts on Air Warfare, January 1937. 

: study, The Development of the German Air Force, June 1945. 

: study, The Principal Reasons for the Defeat of the Luftwaffe. 

: Hitler and his Subordinates, written at Kaufbeuren internment camp, 

September 1945. 

: memoirs, unpublished, 1946-1947; manuscript written in captivity in 

Nuremberg Prison. Principally a description of his prewar years and the 
expansion of Lufthansa. A transcript has been deposited by the author with 
both the MGFA and the IfZ. 

: a confidential study on the life of Goring, 17 May 1947; located in file of 

Pre-Trial Interrogations of Milch, National Archives, RG-238. 



von manstein, field marshal erich: Verlorene Siege (Bonn, 1955). 
milward, alan: The German Economy at War (London, 1965). A monograph 
on the German armaments miracle, in which Fritz Todt is given his just 
credit; based almost wholly on primary sources. 
muller, max: The Todt Case, an Attempt to Solve the Mystery. An unpub- 
lished study made available to me by Herr Albert Speer. 
national archives, Washington: Preliminary Inventory of Textual Records 
of the U.S. Military Tribunals, Nuremberg (Washington, 1966). 

: report and documents of the Simpson Commission of Inquiry; NARS 

record group RG-335. A disturbing account of American military interro- 
gation and trial procedures in the Dachau and Malmedy trials, investigated 
by an American commission. 

naval conferences, fuhrer s: the author used the original German docu- 
ments of these 1939-1945 conferences, rather than the very abridged Eng- 
lish translation available in Brassey’s Naval Annual 1948 ; historians should 
be warned that many of the minutes are wrongly dated, and that Raeder’s 
minutes are by no means complete records of the matters discussed. 
naval staff war diary: recourse was had to the original bound volumes in 
the U.S. Navy Department historical division, which frequently disclose 
matters of Luftwaffe interest. 

Nuremberg: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military 
Tribunal (Nuremberg, 1947-48); especially vol. ix, containing Milch’s tes- 
timony. This was compared by the author with the earlier mimeographed 
text and with the wire-recording stored at the National Archives, Wash- 
ington. Alarming discrepancies between the sound recording and the pub- 
lished version were found; this text is based on the sound recordings. 
: documents, collection Rep. 501, item lx, in Bavarian Archives, Nurem- 
berg: writs, petitions, OMGUS Legal Division documents and other papers 
on the Milch Case (Case 11). 

: official transcript of the U.S. Military Tribunal 11 in the Case of the 

United States of America versus Erhard Milch, defendant, at Nuremberg, 
Germany, from 2 January to 17 April 1947. This full transcript (2,544 
pages), available in both the German and English versions, is preferable to 



the selective extracts published in the one Green Volume on Case n. The 
transcript is available at the Wiener Library, London; the IfZ, Munich; the 
Bavarian archives, Nuremberg; and the National Archives, Washington. 
von oven, wilfred: diaries, published as Mit Goebbels bis zum Ende (Buenos 
Aires, 1949-50). 

paget, Reginald t., qc: Manstein, his Campaigns and Trial (London, 1951). 
pendele, colonel max: fragmentary extracts from the diaries kept by 
Pendele, Udet’s adjutant until the end; unpublished. 
pickert, general Wolfgang: unpublished diaries, 1942-1943. Pickert com- 
manded the 9th Flak Division at Stalingrad. 
price, Alfred: Instruments of Darkness (London, 1967). A reliable account of 
electronic warfare between the air forces, based on restricted British 

rieckhoff, general h. j.: Trumpf oder Bluff? (Geneva, 1945). The first post- 
war history of the Luftwaffe, by one of its generals. 
von Richthofen, field marshal wolfram: unpublished diaries, 1940-1944. 

These were generously made available by the family. 
roeder, manfred: unpublished summary of the legal investigation into Udet’s 
suicide, by the Judge Advocate concerned; written in Nuremberg, 27 June 
1947 - 

root, waverley: The Secret History of the War (New York, 1945). 
rosenberg, Alfred: diaries, published as Das politische Tagebuch Alfred Rosen- 
bergs, by Hans-Gunther Seraphim (Gottingen, 1956). The edition is un- 
fortunately fragmentary, as the original diaries were acquired by one of the 
American prosecution team at Nuremberg and have not been seen since. 
speidel, helm: paper on the Reichswehr and the Red Army, published in VfZ, 
1953, PP- 18 et seq. 

seiler, fritz: unpublished memoirs, made available to the author by courtesy 
of Seiler. 

: typescript study, The Udet Case; based on Messerschmitt company 


: postwar memorandum, How to Explain that my Career was Ruined by 

the Work- Prohibition Imposed from 1946-1949; an unpromisingly titled 



study which in fact gives much insight into the Messerschmitt Company 

speer, albert: unpublished official chronicles of office, 1941-1944. The 1943 
volume is FD. 3037/ 49; copies of the other volumes were kindly provided by 
Herr Speer, but there are indications that these are not complete copies of 
the originals, which were retained by Speer’s clerk, Wolters. 

: Erinnerungen (Berlin, 1969). A volume of memoirs which will confirm 

Milch’s assessment of his former Armaments Minister; more a piece 
justificative than a straightforward history, but full of revelation none the 

suchenwirth, prof richard: Milch, an Essay. Dated 29 June 1955, this un- 
published manuscript was one of a series of biographies commissioned by 
the U.S. forces in Europe on leading Luftwaffe personalities. The Milch 
study is less accurate than those on Goring, Jeschonnek and Udet, which 
were also made available to the author. 

thomas, general georg: basis for a history of the German defence and ar- 
maments economy (completed 1944), Nuremberg document 2353-PS; pub- 
lished with useful appendices in full by the Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, as 
Monograph No. 14: Geschichte der deutschen Wehr und Riistungswirtschaft 
(Boppard am Rhein, 1966). 

thorwald, jurgen: Ernst Udet, Mein Fliegerleben (Berlin, 1954). 

u.s. strategic bombing survey: Aircraft Division Industry Report (No. 4). 

: The Defeat of the German Air Force (No. 59). 

: V-Weapons (Crossbow) Campaign (No. 60). 

: British Experience during German Air Raids. A British source docu- 
ment, filed as 64.b.q.(i5). 

volker, karl-heinz: Die Entwicklung der militdrischen Luftfahrt in Deutsch- 
land 1920-1933 (Stuttgart, 1962). Volker is the official historian of the Luft- 
waffe; of particular interest in this volume the memorandum by Jeschon- 
nek on p. 273, in which he advocates killing off civil aviation as ‘useless for 
military purposes’. 

: Die deutsche Luftwaffe 1933-1939, Aufbau, Fuhrung, Rustung (Stutt- 
gart, 1967). 



: Dokumente und Dokumentarfotos zur Geschichte der deutschen Luft- 
waffe (Stuttgart, 1968). 

wagner, general eduard: diaries and letters, published as Der General- 
quartiermeister, by his widow Elisabeth Wagner (Munich, 1963). It is to be 
hoped that the remaining Wagner diaries, at present in private hands, will 
also soon become available to historians of the period. 

von waldau, general hoffmann: unpublished diaries, 1939-1943. These dia- 
ries of Jeschonnek’s deputy, with appendices, were kindly made available by 
von Waldau’s widow. 

webster, sir Charles, and dr nobles frankland: The Strategic Air Offensive 
against Germany (HMSO, London, 1961). Official history; courageous and 
just, though less adequate in its description of Bomber Command’s adver- 
saries in occupied Europe. 

wehrmacht, oberkommando der: war diaries, 1940-1945. Published as Krieg- 
stagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (Frankfurt am Main, 

von weichs, field marshal Maximilian: unpublished memoirs of, in Bun- 
desarchiv-Militararchiv collection N-19. 

von winterfeld, hans-karl: unpublished memoirs of this Lufthansa official 
and adjutant of Milch. 

: unpublished report on 1943 reception of the German air attaches by 

Milch et al., 24 August 1945. 

wunsche, max: unpublished diary, June to November 1938. Minute account of 
Hitler’s movements and minor decisions, kept by his aide. 

young, desmond :Rommel (London, 1950). 





1 Diary, 10 Mar 1938. Memoirs, and Pre- 

Trial Interrogation, 17 Oct 1946. An 
earlier hint of coming events can be 
found in Milch’s diary, 15 Feb 1938: 
‘Evening with the Fiihrer. Dinner. [He 
discussed] the assimilation [An- 
gleichung] of Austria.’ 

2 MCH, 12 Mar 1947, p. 1810. Cf Werner 

Bross: Gesprdche mit Hermann Goring, 
pp. n6f. Milch, IMT, vol. ix, p. 84. Also, 
K. H. Volker: Die deutsche Luftwaffe 
i 933- J 939 (Stuttgart, 1867; cited hereafter 
as Volker: Luftwaffe) Milch’s diary, 12 
Mar 1938, and letter Milch to author, 1 
Sep 1968. And Documents on British 
Foreign Policy, Series 3 (cited hereafter 
as DBFP:3), vol. 1, p. 27: Palairet to 
Halifax, 12 Mar 1938. 

3 Diary, 15 Mar 1938. Memoirs, and Milch, 

Feb 1967. The programme for the parade 
is in MPP. The German general in the 
fly-past was Wolff, Sperrle’s chief of 
staff in the Third Air Group, Munich 
(who from 12 to 31 Mar 1938 acted as C- 
in-C of the Luftwaffe in Austria. 

4 Milch, Nov 1968. A copy of his birth cer- 

tificate, dated 31 Mar 1892, issued on 14 
Dec 1937 with a further (significant) 
endorsement by the Minister of the In- 
terior (sgd pp Stuckart) on 18 Feb 1938, is 
in Milch’s personal papers (cited: 


5 MCH, 11 Mar 1947, p. 1755. 

6 Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, 26 Jun 1906. 

7 Milch’s officer’s record ( Personalnacli - 

weis) in MPP. Also MCH, 11 Mar 1947, 
pp. i954f. For a minor act of bravery on 
his part — rescuing a drowning boy — 
see the citations in Berliner General- 
Anzeiger, 28 Aug 1908, and Amstblatt 
der Koniglichen Regierung im Stralsund, 

10 Dec 1908 (MPP). 

8 Milch, Nov 1968. 

9 Letters from Fritz Herrmann, 22 Aug 

1968, and Richard Falke, 29 Aug 1968, to 
the author. The former was seven years 
Milch’s senior and served in the same 
regiment; the latter was a fellow officer 
at Anklam. 

10 Werner Beumelburg; Ein Leben im Di- 
enst der Luftfahrt, Deutsche Soldaten- 
zeitung, 30 Mar 1953. 

11 Diaries. Milch also wrote a notebook of 

essays during the early months of the 
First World War. This chapter is also 
based on the 334-page typescript of the 
handwritten memoirs written by 
Erhard Milch in Nuremberg Prison 
(MPP). The diaries are on tbe author’s 
microfilm DJ-54. 

12 This was a remarkable coincidence, for 

in the battle of Langemarck in autumn 
1914 in Flanders, the young German 
regiments also attacked singing the 
German national hymn. 

13 Diary, 14 Feb 1915. 

14 Memoirs; and diary, 12 Jul 1917: ‘British 

prisoner of war (shot down near Aner- 
moy) joins us in the mess. Douglas 
Weld, from Canada. A small party is 

15 Capt. Helmuth Wilberg, who played a 

significant role in the Reichswehr phase 
of the Luftwaffe’s history, was Kofi 4 
(commanding air units, Fourth Army) 
at this time. 

16 Memoirs. 

17 Diary, 1 Oct 1918; and memoirs. 

18 Diary, 11 Nov 1918; and memoirs. 

19 Diary, 14 Nov 1918; and memoirs. 

20 Milch in MCH, 11 Mar 1947, pp. i756ff. 

21 Letter, Major E. von Stiilpnagel (70 Inf 

Brig) to Capt Milch, Stolp, 3 Jul 1919 



22 Memoirs. 

23 Doc. 6, in Karl-Heinz Volker: Dokumente 

utid Dokumentarfotos zur Geschichte der 
deutschen Luftwaffe (Deutsche Verlag- 
sanstalt, 1968) cited hereafter as Volker: 
Dokumente. This is a list of the police air 
squadrons, dated 31 Mar 1920. The in- 
vitation to Milch came from Major 
Streccius, Fliegerfuhrer of the Army 
Command North. 

24 Kathe Patschke, born 28 Aug 1889, was 
the daughter of the landowner Paul 
Patschke of Schoneck. 

25 Diary, r Nov 1919. 

26 Milch: Report on the incident at the 
Flour Mill, on 13 Aug 1920 (MPP); see 
also Ostpreussische Zeitung , Konigsberg, 
13 Aug 1920: ‘Blood on the conscience of 
rioting strikers. One dead, many in- 
jured’ (MPP). 

27 Milch’s officer’s record (see note 7). On 
the dissolution of German flying units, 
see Volker: Dokumente , Doc. 1, dated 9 
Apr 1920; Doc. 2, dated 6 May 1920; and 
Doc. 4, dated 13 Jan 1921. 

28 Letter, German Airlines to Milch, 22 
Nov 1920 (MPP). 

29 Letter, Herr Porr to Capt Milch, 22 Nov 
1920 (MPP). 

30 Memoirs, and letter Milch to author, 3 
Aug 1969; Milch’s diary had not spoken 
kindly of Sachsenberg before (17 and 19 
Dec 1919). 

31 The card shows flight time from Berlin to 

Konigsberg via Schneidemuhl and 
Danzig as 5V2 hours; it is undated but 
probably before May 1921. 

32 Diary, 23 Apr 1921. 

33 Diary, 4 Jun 1921; and memoirs. Diary, 

26 Jul 1921 et seq.; and memoirs, and 
letter Milch to Sachsenberg, 27 July 1921 

34 Diary, 29 Jul 1921; and memoirs. 

35 Characteristic of airline operating prob- 
lems then are the letters Milch to Lloyd 
Eastern Airways, Devau, 31 Jul 1921; 
Harry Winter to Milch, Danzig Air 
Mail, 2 Aug 1921 (MPP); Milch to 

Sachsenberg, 11 Aug 1921, and Hermann 
Muller to Milch, Riga, 25 Sep 1921 

36 Milch, Dec 1968; and circular re: Proc- 
essing of War Experiences in Aviation, 
Berlin, 5 Jan 1920 (signed Kraehe, and 
counter-signed Wilberg) in MPP; and 
Volker: Luftwaffe, p. 61. Milch’s two 
studies are ‘Aerial Reconnaissance’, 21 
Feb 1920, and ‘Struggle for Air Suprem- 
acy’, 24 Feb 1920 (MPP); Milch’s papers 
also contain a lengthy study he wrote in 
1917 on the future development of air 
power in war — a study which has 
proved very accurate in time. 

37 Milch: comments on Frankfurter Illustri- 
erte articles, 2 May 1952 (MPP): ‘The 
Reich Defence Ministry put the money 
at his [Junkers’s] disposal. I myself had 
to collect the first installment from the 

38 Affidavit Dr Ernst Brandenburg, 29 Oct 
1949. He described the Fili affair as ‘one 
of the most hateful and grievous experi- 
ences in my life’. Also report of State 
Prosecutor Lammler, Dessau, to the 
Reich Air Ministry, 5 Feb 1934 (Berlin 
Document Centre, file: Junkers-Milch) 
and Junkers company, Main Office: De- 
scription of the Relations between the 
Reich Defence Ministry (Army Com- 
mand) and Professor Junkers from 
Autumn 1921 to Autumn 1926 (dated 8 
Dec 1926, in the Junkers archives). This 
latter report was circulated inter alia to 
Reichstaff deputies Quaatz, Kulenk- 
ampff and Wieland, and this consti- 
tuted the treason of which Junkers was 
later accused. 

39 Milch: Half-annual report on the opera- 
tions of Danzig Air Mail from 5 May to 
30 Sep 1922 (MPP) and memoirs. 

40 Memoirs, and letter Milch to Junkers 
company, Aviation Department, 4 Aug 
1922 (MPP). 

41 Memoirs; and Frankfurter Illustrierte, 27 
Apr 1952. 

42 Ibid., 15 June 1924. 



43 Diary, 16 July 1924; and Milch in MCH, 
11 Mar 1947, p. 1761. 

44 Diary, 21-28 Jul 1924. 

45 Letter, Brandenburg to Prussian Minis- 
try of Trade, 23 Nov 1924; quoted in 
KarlHeinz Eyermann: Der grosse Bluff 
(based on documents in East German 
archives); cf Willy Polte: Uns aber ge- 
horte der Himmel (Bonn, 1956), p. 145. 

46 Memoirs. 

47 Von Gablenz: note on telephone conver- 
sation between Koch and Dr Kauf- 
mann, 13 Nov 1925 (MPP). Milch, letter 
of Aug 1969. 

48 Memorandum, Dessau, 15 Nov 1925, in 
which the whole episode is recounted by 
von Gablenz stage by stage (MPP). Cf 
diary, 14 Nov 1925: ‘In Berlin with Koch 
and Fisch: would I like to become man- 
ager (instead of Sago [Sachsenberg])? 
Yes, provided Prof [Junkers] also asks 
me to.’ 

49 Memorandum of 24 Nov 1925 (MPP). 

50 Milch: Memorandum of 24 Dec 1925. 

51 Brandenburg: affidavit, 29 Oct 1949: 

‘From that moment on, this company 
[Lufthansa] was like a red rag to a bull 
for Junkers. As Milch had previously 
been employed by Junkers Airways 
Company, he was regarded by the pro- 
fessor and by many of his partly inno- 
cent but misinformed colleagues as a 

52 Milch, letter of Aug 1969. 

53 Memoirs; and memorandum of 24 Dee 

1925 (MPP). 

54 Memoirs. 

55 Frankfurter Illustrierte, 27 Apr 1952; the 

pioneers were led by Dr Robert Knauss 
and Lt Cdr (ret.) Georg von Winterfeld. 

56 The licence was awarded on 27 Jan 1927. 

57 Cf article, ‘Air Traveled Germany’ by W. 
Jefferson Davis in Saturday Evening 
Post, 19 Nov 1927. 

58 Milch in MCH, 11 Mar 1947, p. 1762; and 


59 Diary, 21 Mar 1927; and memoirs. 

60 Milch, lecture: Technical Developments 

in Aviation, delivered at Essen, 24 May 
1928 (MPP). 

61 On the successful east-west transatlantic 
crossing by Lufthansa’s Captain Kohl 
(an attempt which Milch flatly op- 
posed), see Milch’s memorandum on 
confs with Herr Kohl early and mid- 
Mar 1928, dated Berlin 12 Apr 1928; and 
on 22 Jun 1928, dated 23 Jun 1928 
(MPP). And diary, 12-1